Consumer-Directed Plans Have Risks, Benefits
Consumer-directed health plans, which feature low monthly premiums and high annual deductibles and in some cases are coupled with health savings accounts, have risks and benefits, the New York Times reports.
UnitedHealth Group is the leading provider of consumer-directed plans, with 1.8 million enrollees. The insurer found that the plans decreased the average cost of care by 3% to 5%, compared with an increase of 8% to 10% in its traditional plans.
However, according to the Times, the plans are "more complicated and risky tha[n] conventional health insurance," and despite "heavy promotion by insurance companies, corporate benefit consultants and even cheerleading by President Bush, employers have been slow to push consumer-directed health plans and workers have been even slower to choose them." For 2006, 7% of employers that provide health benefits offered consumer-directed plans, and fewer than three million employees enrolled, according to an annual survey of employers conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.
Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin, an economist who led a study of consumer-directed health plans released by RAND, said the evidence "shows that greater cost-sharing leads to reduction in health care use and expenditures," adding, "But what we don't know is how this will affect overall health quality and patients' health" (Abelson/Freudenheim, New York Times, 11/4).