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

It is not surprising that deductibles of $1,000 or more reduced health care consumption, but we found that savings occurred even when employers helped employees offset these out-of-pocket costs by making contributions to their accounts," said Roland McDevitt, a study co-author and director of health research at Towers Watson, a human resource and employee benefits consultancy. "This was true for both health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements."

Health reimbursement arrangements and health savings accounts create different incentives for employees. Health reimbursement arrangements allow employers to pay for qualified medical expenses, including those that fall under the deductible. These payments or reimbursements are excluded from the taxable income of the employee. Unused portions may roll over at the end of the year, but any account balance is owned by the employer and employees generally forfeit the account balance if they leave the employer before retirement.

Health savings accounts create a stronger incentive for employees to manage their health care costs, because the employee owns the account. This type of account was shown to have the largest impact on cost reductions. It can earn interest and it follows employees when they change jobs.

Health savings account contributions are only allowed for those enrolled in high-deductible health plans as defined by law, but account balances may be used for qualified medical expenses at any time. The minimum health savings account deductibles for 2011 are $1,200 for single coverage and $2,400 for family coverage.

The study found that both the level of the deductible and the level of the employer account contributions influence the extent of savings. Higher deductibles of $1,000 or more together with employer account contributions of less than half the deductible produced the greatest cost reductions.

"It is clear that high-deductible health plans with
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Contact: Warren Robak
robak@rand.org
310-451-6913
RAND Corporation
Source:Eurekalert

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