The rise in fitness apps and wearable technologies that push us to adopt healthier and more active lifestyles is an undeniable sign that Americans are taking more interest in owning their health. The trend toward more patient and consumer engagement is also complemented and challenged by the growing reality that more healthcare costs are being passed onto the consumer in the form of high premiums and out-of-pocket payments. While no one wants to feel the pinch in their wallet, these trends are also putting patients in the driver’s seat of their own health and fueling demand for information that can help consumers navigate their health choices.
High deductible health plans (HDHP) offer many consumers the option of a lower monthly premium in exchange for a higher deductible and are commonly paired with a tax-free health spending account (HSA) to help offset medical bills that individuals may have in their deductible. These plans have become very popular and, according to a Mercer study released in October, 29 percent of employees are enrolled in a HDHP.
This is not surprising given the kitchen table conversations that American families have today. A Mercer survey released in October found that “on average, families saved almost $150 a month in premiums, or $1,800 a year, if they chose the high-deductible option, coupled with a health savings account offered by many large employers.”
But critics of HDHPs say these plans may not work for all Americans. It’s too early to say who most benefits from these plans, but we have some early data that shows that we should keep an open mind. Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan for Medicaid patients couples a HDHP and a HSA in which patients contribute 2 percent of their income every month (the state also provides subsidies). Patients pay for their care through the HSA until they reach their deductible. According to a Lewin Group report, the plan has achieved some solid accomplishments while increasing access to healthcare for low income Indianans, including promoting personal health responsibility and preventive health efforts. Further, the state also saw fewer inappropriate uses of emergency services, likely attributable to a new co-pay feature for the ER. And, interestingly enough, consumers like it, with 80 percent satisfied with the program!
HDHPs work on this premise: When it’s our money being spent, will we make better healthcare decisions and choose healthier lifestyles. This can only be true if we continue to provide consumers information and tools that help them comparison shop relative to the health plans, hospitals, physicians, and even the medications they use. But this information must be current and focus not only on the price of care, but also on the quality and overall clinical benefits.
Consumer engagement is here to stay. They need choices that match the economic realities families face when balancing health insurance among other family priorities. HDHPs and HSAs are an important option to add to the mix.