Broad adoption of consumer directed heath plans could save $57 billion annually, study concludes
The discussion of how Americans and their employers pay for increasingly costly health care coverage will likely be stoked by this recent study appearing in the journal Health Affairs that concludes consumer directed health plans — high deductible, catastrophic coverage combined with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) — could achieve $57.1 billion savings annually if half of non-elderly U.S. population had them. That’s because they operate as true insurance plans, covering medical costs for unexpected, catastrophic events with people paying out of their own pocket for routine care and prescriptions. The study predicts the potential savings of such together with additional incentives in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will encourage their growth.
Widespread adoption of this scheme would return the nation to something akin to the “major medical” coverage model of health insurance that existed in the post World War II period until pre-paid plans such as health maintenance organizations (HMOs) became prevalent starting in the 1970s and 1980s. Their growth created an expectation of no or minimal out of pocket costs for routine care and preventative screenings, leading the study’s authors to caution those in consumer directed health plans may forgo them, potentially leading to higher health care costs over the long term.
The authors also suggest that wider adoption of consumer directed health plans could be disruptive to the traditional health insurance and HMO markets and promote adverse selection in these product lines since healthier people may opt for consumer directed plans since their premiums tend to be lower. A major challenge facing health insurers and plans, however, is setting premiums for consumer directed plans low enough to jibe with consumer expectations of lower, more affordable premiums in exchange for taking on first dollar exposure up to a high deductible limit. Older albeit generally healthy people in the individual market have experienced sticker shock at rates for high deductible plans, deterring them from buying the coverage even though the premium rate reflects the actuarial risk of a catastrophic medical event.