High deductible likely chosen by the healthy, educated

September 16, 2010 By Laura Kennedy

Healthier people are more likely to select a high-deductible health plan over a conventional plan, according to data from several employers that first offered the option in 2006. Participants choosing one of the new plans were eligible for contributions to a tax-free health savings account (HSA).

People who are sick or have an ill family member are less likely to choose an HSA-eligible plan, according to the study. African-Americans and those with less education also tend to stick with a more conventional policy.

“Our findings support the concern that the people who are most likely to benefit [from HSA-eligible plans] are those who are already better off in society,” said lead author Judith Lave, Ph.D., a health economist at the University of Pittsburgh.

The authors analyzed data from nine large employers in western Pennsylvania as they introduced HSA-eligible plans. More than 50,000 employees chose between the new offering and a preferred provider organization (PPO) during the two years studied. The report appears online in the journal Health Services Research.

A growing number of employers have been offering HSA-eligible plans since Congress first defined them in 2003. About 10 million Americans are in such plans currently, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in Washington, D.C.

Proponents believe that the new plans can be more affordable for consumers, since higher deductibles mean lower premiums, according to the authors. Furthermore, they contend that people will use services more judiciously if they are more aware of costs. However, critics argue that if many healthier people switch to high-deductible plans, costs might rise for those remaining in conventional plans.

“We may be just redistributing the costs between the sick and the well,” Lave said.

“Researchers are finding that in a choice environment, HSA-eligible plans do attract healthier people,” confirmed Paul Fronstin, Ph.D., of EBRI. “Employers and can take that information and modify their plans to account for it.”

Employers have been experimenting with plan design for years in hopes of reducing overall health costs without reducing benefits, Fronstin said. With the new data, they could adjust deductibles, maximum out-of-pocket expenses or employer HSA contributions to steer more people toward the high-deductible plans.

Fronstin and Lave agree that the jury is still out on whether these plans can provide the solution employers are seeking.

“We need better analyses of these plans with respect to overall health care spending,” Lave said.

More information: Lave JR, et al. Employee choice of a high deductible health plan across multiple employers. Health Service Research online, 2010. Fronstin P. Findings from the 2008 Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey. EBRI Issue Brief No. 323, Employee Benefit Research Institute, Nov 2008.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA

December 7, 2016

Bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products and plastics. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted some of these compounds' use in certain products for babies and ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2010
High deductible likely chosen by the healthy, educated

duh. It IS insurance, after all. I have associates who believe they are being "ripped" off by deductibles and co-pay. Some believe healthcare should be free. In this regard, they are idiots, as There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - TANSTAFFL.

The political class doesn't want Health Insurance for all, if they did, they would offer a (large deductible) $5000 Major Medical Stop Loss policy, with assistance for the lowest performing economic groups. The industry would respond with co-insurance to cover the gap and expand coverage.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2010
I agree, high deductibles force people to not be wasteful with their everyday medical care, but still cover them in an emergency. Ditto on the political class, Obama's policy was nothing but a sell-out to the insurance lobby.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.