The rate of increase in health care expenditures has been a central policy concern for well over a decade, yet little empirical research has been conducted to examine expenditure growth rates. This study analyzed health insurance premium growth rates for a selected sample of 95 insured groups over the period 1985 to 1992. During this time, premiums increased by approximately 150% in nominal terms and by 45% in real terms. The observed rate of growth was not constant over time, however. The most rapid growth occurred during the years 1986 to 1989; thereafter, the rate of increase in premiums declined. Multivariate analysis was conducted to assess the effects on premium growth rates of selected variables representing insurance benefit design features, market competitive factors, insurance system factors, and group-specific factors. In addition to the percentage increase in benefit payments, other factors found to affect premium growth rates were health maintenance organization market penetration, deductible level, the coinsurance rate, and state insurance mandates. Further, this analysis suggests that the insurance underwriting cycle may play an important role in influencing insurance premium growth rates. These results support the belief that health maintenance organization induced competition has potential to control the rate of increase in health care costs.
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