A decade ago, consumer driven health care was little more thana fad—just one more temporary fix aimed at the country's troubledhealth care system.

But not anymore.

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“There's no question that today these plans and the associatedproducts—such as health savings accounts—are real, viable optionsfor millions,” says Dennis Triplett, CEO of UMB HealthcareServices.

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The last decade has seen massive growth—not to mention wideracceptance—of consumer-driven health care and related products byboth employers and employees.

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“This has changed the benefits industry in that what may havebeen viewed as an attractive option for small employers orindividuals as a way to control costs, is now a main benefit, ifnot the only, for large employers looking to curb rising premiumswhile driving employee engagement and responsibility for theirhealth care choices.”

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The numbers speak for themselves: The number of people with HSAcoverage rose to more than 13.5 million, up from 11.4 million inJanuary 2011, according to data fromAmerica's Health InsurancePlans.

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So far, in 2013, companies have reported record-breaking HSAnumbers. UMB Healthcare, for one, said earlier in the year that itsHSA balances savings account balances grew 55 percent in the pastyear, reaching $615 million as of Jan. 31.

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But perhaps CDHC's biggest and brightest accomplishment has beengetting consumers more invested and involved in their own healthcare.

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“Consumer-driven health care addresses the moral hazard that haslong existed in employer-based health care benefits. When thepatient is really disconnected from the cost of care or associatedfinancial risks, they have no skin in the game,” Triplett explains.“In a CDHC plan, the patient is now at the center of the healthcare decision process engaging with providers to make a plan forcoordinated and cost-conscious care. This model also pushesproviders to focus on providing less 'sick care' and more 'wellcare.'”

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Consider research from Cigna: When compared tocustomers in traditional PPO and HMO plans, those in a CDHP bothlowered their health risks while reducing total medical costs. Theywere more likely to participate in wellness programs and healthassessments, and were 59 percent more likely to access cost andprocedure information to help them review potential medicalcosts.

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CDHP customers also sought preventive care, such as annualoffice visits and mammograms, more frequently than customersenrolled in a traditional plan.

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The shift toward bringing consumers to the forefront of theircare is vital to making the country's health care system work, saysBart Halling, vice president of customer solutions for UMR, thethird-party unit of UnitedHealthCare.

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“Although it would be hard to make the case that consumerism initself can be the single silver bullet to all that ails theindustry, it's easier to imagine the industry collapsing in onitself from the weight of unchecked cost trend growth, without thepositive influence of consumerism.”

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