HSAs prompt shift in health behavior

Employers and consumers alike are adopting health savings accounts as a viable way to manage their health care costs without compromising care, according to two national surveys released Thursday.

The “2011 Employer and Account Holder Surveys,” commissioned by ACS and conducted by Buck Consultants, show a majority of small employers (77 percent) believe high deductible health plans with an HSA are key in controlling health care costs. Additionally, more than half (56 percent) of account holders have found that their HSA-qualified plan provides an affordable health care option.

“This year’s survey results reveal an interesting phenomenon — HSAs are doing more than just saving consumers and employers money. They are prompting a shift in behavior that is helping employees make better decisions about their own health care,” says Tom Hricik, principal, The ACS | HSA Solution.

According to the surveys, people like HSAs because it helps them manager their own health services. Three-quarters of respondents say the ability personally to control their own health costs is an “extremely” or “very” important benefit of HSAs.

Not only are account holders setting aside more money than before they had an HSA to cover potential medical costs (54 percent), but they are also engaging in healthier lifestyle choices (18 percent), researching preventive care programs (18 percent), shopping for lower priced prescription drugs (28 percent), and planning health care better throughout the year (31 percent). Individuals perceive that they consume medical services at approximately the same rate but are shopping for care more than before.

Employers report that the cost of providing HSA-qualified plans is less than the cost of providing a standard PPO. The average direct cost to provide an HDHP/HSA is $5,469 for individual coverage and $9,909 for family coverage. In comparison, the average PPO cost is $7,158 for individuals and $10,691 for family.

Those positive trends in cost savings and account holder behavior make it easier for employers to continue offering competitive healthcare options for employees, Hricik says.

Of the employers surveyed, only 6 percent stated that they are at least very likely to discontinue offering the HSA-qualified plan in the future. And only 7 percent of employers stated that they would be at least very likely to move employees to future health care exchanges.

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