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Study Shows Consumers With High Deductible Health Plans Are More Savvy About Controlling Costs, Improving Health

Research indicates there is room for further education among consumers

PHILADELPHIA, April 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Research released today from Independence Blue Cross (IBC) shows that health care consumers who choose high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) --- which feature lower premiums and higher deductibles, and focus on prevention and education --- are more likely than members of other health plans to choose lower cost care options, such as generics versus brand drugs, and take better care of their health.

IBC recently commissioned two in-depth studies to learn more about employer groups' and consumers' attitudes towards taking active roles in their health care -- known as consumerism -- and whether their behaviors back up their beliefs. More broadly, health care consumerism refers to empowering consumers by transforming how they make choices about the price, quality, and value of health care products and services.

"We are working with employer groups to address the challenge of providing cost-effective, quality health care, as the emergence of consumerism is rapidly changing the health care industry," said Dr. Esther Nash, senior medical director and co-chair for the Office of Consumerism at IBC. "Our research concludes that people are beginning to understand the importance of choosing healthier lifestyles, asking their physicians more questions about treatment options, and proactively making the right decisions for their wellness. The role of the health care consumer has become more and more prominent."

"We are committed to providing the products, tools, and incentives to empower consumers to take an active role in their health care decisions," said Scott Post, vice president of Marketing and co-chair for IBC's Office of Consumerism. "We strive for optimum member health that results in medical cost savings and this is part of a major revolution in the health care industry.

"Everyone plays a role in this transformation, from the broker who sells health care plans, to the employer who offers health coverage to his employees, to the physician who treats patients, to the end consumers who ultimately make the decisions that play a huge part in how healthy they are," he added.

IBC's Office of Consumerism, formed in 2007, sets the company's consumerism strategy, implements projects to benefit health care consumers, and collaborates with business partners and employer groups to expand consumerism efforts.

IBC's research found:

  • HDHP members more engaged. Consumers in high-deductible plans appear to be more engaged in making health care decisions than consumers in more traditional managed care plans such as HMOs or PPOs. This is especially true when it comes to managing a chronic condition. Fifty-seven percent of HDHP members with chronic conditions say they are actively involved in treatment decisions, versus 37 percent of members who are in other managed care plans.

  • Demand for high-deductible plans growing. In the Philadelphia market, adoption of HDHPs is growing, and in 2008, IBC saw a 109 percent increase in HDHP enrollment. As employers deal with more challenging times, more may begin to offer HDHPs as a cost saving option that will also encourage their employees to become better-educated consumers of health care.

  • Health plans regarded as a key source of information. Consumers are not yet confident in their ability to make health care decisions and they continue to look for guidance from traditional sources such as friends, family, and their physicians. However, consumers have now begun to regard their health plans as a viable source for information, particularly when exploring treatment options or the cost of care.

  • Price matters -- sometimes. Overall, consumers are not yet willing to be inconvenienced to get a better price for health care. However, HDHP members are more likely to take actions for a better price such as using a primary care physician over a specialist or changing the location for taking a diagnostic test. When consumers do ask questions, they primarily pertain to the cost of prescription drugs. The number one health care decision where consumers said they would make a choice to save money is opting for a generic over a brand name prescription drug.

  • Employers willing to reward workers; employees willing to participate. Half of employers surveyed said they are likely to offer a wellness rewards program to their workforce and believe it will lead to healthier employees. Nearly 85 percent of the surveyed employers believe that the best way to control health care costs is for people to take better care of themselves. Approximately two-thirds of consumers would be likely to participate in incentive programs if offered. Consumers also said if their employers offered incentive programs, it would show that they cared about their employees.

  • Plans promote well-being. The majority of consumers believe their health plans want to help them improve or maintain their health. This was particularly true of IBC members; 81 percent of IBC members felt this way versus 67 percent of other carriers' members. When asked why, consumers pointed to IBC's coverage for preventive care and incentives for healthy behavior. IBC members were more likely than members of other plans to mention the availability of IBC's wellness programs, such as incentives to exercise, lose weight, or quit smoking.

"We are encouraged by these survey outcomes and look forward to similar employer and consumer studies scheduled to be conducted later this year," said Post. "This way we will be able to gauge the impact of our efforts to educate the health care consumer and offer the appropriate tools and programs. Over the long run, we expect the consumerism movement to result in greater awareness of wellness, improved long-term health for consumers of our region, and a strong potential for lowering medical cost trends to help employers control health care costs."

IBC offers many ways for members to become engaged in health care decisions. For example, a pilot program of Healthy Lifestyles(SM) Rewards, an incentive program to help members work toward a healthier lifestyle, was launched earlier this year with four employers, and will be offered to employers with more than 100 employees, beginning July 2009. Healthy Lifestyles Rewards allows employers to reward employees' healthy behavior with gift cards.

The two consumerism surveys commissioned by IBC were conducted online by DSS Research, a national research firm headquartered in Fort Worth, Tex. The Consumerism Study interviewed several thousand southeastern Pennsylvania consumers in August 2008 who were insured either by IBC or another carrier. The employer group study was conducted in November 2008 among 225 organizations in the Philadelphia area. All employers had at least 100 employees who participate in their health plans.

About Independence Blue Cross

Independence Blue Cross is a leading health insurer in southeastern Pennsylvania. Nationwide, Independence Blue Cross and its affiliates provide coverage to nearly 3.4 million people. For more than 70 years, Independence Blue Cross has offered high-quality health care coverage tailored to meet the changing needs of members, employers, and health care professionals. Independence Blue Cross's HMO and PPO health care plans have consistently received the highest ratings from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Independence Blue Cross is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. More information about Independence Blue Cross is available at

SOURCE Independence Blue Cross
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