"Understanding the slower cost growth for 2012 means looking at the factors working to hold down the underlying trend along with the actions employers are taking to reduce cost next year," Mercer said in a release. "Use of health services, which slowed this year, is one such factor. Some analysts believe the tough economy, combined with generally higher deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing, is affecting utilization — that because employees have less disposable income and are working longer hours, they are less likely to seek non-urgent care."
Some say workers are benefiting from employers' focus on programs targeted at improving employee health.
"Earlier risk identification and health education, along with improvements in drug therapies and medical technology, are keeping people with health risks and chronic conditions away from the emergency room," Susan Connolly, a partner in Mercer's Boston office, said in a statement. "And consumers are more aware that overuse and misuse of health care services will directly impact their wallets as well as their employer's budget."