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Big Fears on Health Care Point to Same Old Rises in Payments

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Health care consumers sensing a seismic shift in the way they'll buy and manage medical coverage may be correct in one way -- 29% of U.S. employers either plan to ax their employee health care programs or are considering it, which would send workers out to the government-sponsored health care exchanges expected to roll out in 2014 -- but wrong in expecting massive hikes in health care costs.

This year's increase is projected to be only 0.1% higher than was seen in 2010, for instance, according to data from Aon Hewitt.

Prudential Insurance (PRU - Get Report) has been taking a long look at health care reform and reports on the findings in Health Care Reform: The Waiting is Over, the company's third-in-a-series review of health care reform.

In it, Prudential asks health insurance brokers, employees and employers how consumer health care benefits will change this year and next, finding 46% of employees believe the cost of their health care coverage will rise this year; and that 80% of health care insurance brokers interviewed by the insurance giant say the number of employee benefits offered will be "highly impacted" by health care reform.

In addition, 55% of U.S. employers say the number of health care benefits they can offer will be a "top concern" in 2013.

Of course, these are safe bets; the costs of health care coverage have been rising annually for decades, and employers asking their workers to take more of the burden seems to be an entrenched workplace tradition.

According to Aon Hewitt, health care insurance premiums will rise by 6.3% this year -- a little more than the 5.5% average seen from 2007-10 and less than the 8.5% rise of 2011. The 4.9% rise last year was the lowest increase in six years.

According to Aon Hewitt, the average employee health care tab will rise to $11,188 this year, up from $10,522 last year. But workers are expected to pay only $2,385 of the freight, or $181 more than last year.

Rather than continuing to pay the extra $8,973 to fund employee health care insurance, more and more companies with 50 or more employees will opt to pay a per-employee government tax of $2,000 to cut the cord and send staffers out to health care exchanges.

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