Fewer Hospital Admissions Seen Under High-Deductible Health Plans
Employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans are less likely to visit the emergency department and have fewer hospital admissions than those enrolled in traditional plans, according to a study released on Wednesday by UnitedHealth Group, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The study, one of the largest conducted on high-deductible health plans, tracked 55,000 employees from 2003 to 2005.
According to the study, employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans are more likely to visit primary care physicians for no-cost preventive examinations on a regular basis than those in traditional plans. The study also finds that the cost to employers for employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans decreased by 3% to 5% between 2003 and 2005 and that the cost to employers for employees enrolled in traditional plans increased by 8% to 10% over the same period.
In addition, among employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans who had health savings accounts opened in early 2005, the average balance was $1,112, the study finds. About 60% of employers contributed to employee HSAs, with the amount equal to 40% of the annual deductible in most cases, according to the study.
Mike Tarino, CEO of the UnitedHealth Definity division, said that the study indicates that employees "can make wiser, more financially sound decisions about their health care."
Jeff Azen, a partner and consultant for the employee benefits practice at the Stanton Group, said, "I think this shows that, as soon as a consumer has some skin in the game, they are likely to make good decisions ... based on the impact to their wallet."
However, some health care experts said that employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans represent only a small percentage of those with health insurance.
Steve Parente, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, said of the study, "These are interesting numbers. The results say these plans are working. But at the same time, the results might be preliminary" (Phelps, Star Tribune, 7/12).