Healthcare expenses for U.S. employers are expected to increase next year at the lowest rate in more than a decade, but the cost of benefits for workers is likely to outpace the growth of their earnings, a national survey has found. Companies expect their bills for health benefits to rise 5.4% on average next year, the smallest increase since 1997, according to preliminary results from a survey of nearly 1,600 employers by benefits consulting firm Mercer. The smaller increase reflects cost-cutting efforts by employers. Many are moving workers into lower-cost health plans or slashing expenses by raising insurance deductibles. In the absence of any cost-cutting, employers said they expect their average health benefit costs to rise 7.1%. That is down from about 9% each of the last five years.