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Study finds consumers may have more control over health costs than previously thought
Date:9/29/2011

The historic RAND Health Insurance Experiment found that patients had little or no control over their health care spending once they began to receive a physician's care, but a new study shows that this has changed for those enrolled in consumer-directed health plans.

Patients with health coverage that includes a high deductible and either a health savings account or a health reimbursement arrangement reduced their costs even after they initiated care.

Overall, the study found about two thirds of the reduction in total health care costs was from patients initiating care less often and the remaining third was from a reduction in costs after care is initiated. The findings were published online by the journal Forum for Health Economics and Policy.

"Unlike earlier time periods, it seems that today's consumers can have greater influence on the level and mix of medical services provided once they begin to receive medical care," said Amelia Haviland, the study's lead author and a senior statistician at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. "We found that at least part of the savings in cost per episode reflects choices for less-costly treatments and products, not just a reduction in the number of services."

Researchers from RAND, Towers Watson and the University of Southern California examined the claims experience of many large employers in the United States to determine how consumer-directed health plans and other high-deductible plans can reduce health care costs. The study was funded by the California HealthCare Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to Haviland, at least three factors influenced the cost of care once the patient had initiated care: lower use of name-brand medications, less in-patient care and lower use of specialists. Researchers speculate that patients may talk to their doctors about their higher deductibles and ask them to help keep costs low.

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Contact: Warren Robak
robak@rand.org
310-451-6913
RAND Corporation
Source:Eurekalert

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