The average per-employee cost of U.S. employer-sponsored health benefits has risen by 5.2 per cent in 2023 to reach US$15,797, according to a new survey by Mercer.

The survey, which polled more than 1,900 U.S. employers, found cost increases were highest for employers with 50 to 499 employees (7.8 per cent on average) and these employers also reported a higher average per-employee cost ($16,464 compared to $15,640 among employers with 500 or more employees).

Read: U.S. employers’ health benefits costs expected to rise 5.4% per employee: survey

A spike in the use of glucagon-like peptide 1 drugs — which have traditionally been used for diabetes management — had a notable impact on benefits costs. Roughly two-fifths (41 per cent) of large employers reported covering GLP-1 medications for the treatment of obesity, often with authorization and/or reauthorization requirements, while 19 per cent said they’re considering providing this coverage.

In terms of coverage for gene and cell therapies, most large employers said they’re taking action to prepare for potentially significant cost increases by conducting risk assessments (21 per cent), working with medical carriers and pharmacy benefits managers to implement clinical management programs (44 per cent) and adding or enhancing stop-loss protection (10 per cent).

Despite rising benefits costs, the survey found large employers mostly avoided shifting additional costs to employees through higher deductibles, copays or out-of-pocket maximums in 2023.

Read: U.S. employer-sponsored health benefits costs expected to rise 7% in 2024: survey