Study: High Deductible, High Savings Account Plan Cut Employer Costs

Adopting a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account for all employees significantly reduced health spending for one large Midwestern employer, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute study.

Researchers monitored the employer's health spending after it stopped offering traditional health plans and replaced them with high-deductible plans with savings accounts, from Jan. 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2010. The study group included 13,272 workers and their dependents.

Health plans with high deductibles — generally more than $1,000 for single people and twice that for families — are generally associated with savings account options to cover out-of-pocket costs, according to the study. In 2012, nearly one in five workers were enrolled in a high-deductible plan with a health savings account, also known as a consumer-directed health plan.

The researchers found the new plan structure reduced the employer's spending by 25 percent or $527 per person in the first year compared with the year before the plan was adopted, with all categories showing significant decreases aside from inpatient hospital stay spending. Spending on lab services dropped the most at 36 percent, and prescription drug spending declined 32 percent.

The new plan had less of a cost-saving effect in subsequent years, with spending 8 percent or $169 per person lower in the second year relative to the year before the new coverage was implemented. Spending was down only $75 per person in the third year, an amount that wasn't statistically different from the year before the high-deductible plan kicked in. In the fourth year, the company spent 6 percent or $132 per person less than it did before enacting the new plan model.

Because the study focused on the experience of one large manufacturing employer, its results have some limitations and might not be applicable to larger populations, the researchers wrote.

More Articles on High-Deductible Health Plans:
Unpaid Hospital Bills on the Rise for High-Deductible Plan Members
Study: Poorer High-Deductible Plan Members May Skip Needed ED Care
5 Key Trends in Healthcare for 2013 

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