Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Adventures in (Consumer Driven) Health Care

Three interesting stories illustrate that, whatever the ultimate outcome of CDHC turns out to be (boom or bust), the industry is at least giving it a shot.
As you may recall, we've discussed Aetna's transparency pilot program before. At the time, I expressed my hope that the program would be expanded to other venues.
Well, looks like they listened to me [ed: yeah, right!]:
■ Connecticut
■ Washington, D.C.
■ Northern Virginia
■ Maryland
■ Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Springfield, Ohio
■ Northern Kentucky
■ Southeast Indiana
■ South Florida
■ Kansas City, Kan. and Mo.
■ Las Vegas
■ Pittsburgh, Pa."
It's nice to see that program expanding. Of course, the true test will be if (and when) other carriers follow suit. Right now, it's a novelty, perhaps even a marketing gimmick. But as such information becomes more and more readily available, the pressure on other carriers to launch their own transparency initiatives should become quite powerful.
Transparency, though, is but one facet of CDHC. Plan design and popularity are more accurate indicators of market penetration. United HealthCare has seen the ranks of its CDHC plan membership swell recently. According to UHC, "consumer-driven health plan members surpassed 1.75 million people recently. The company has a little more than 710,000 people enrolled in health savings accounts and another one million and change in health reimbursement accounts." [ed: link not yet available] That represents an increase in HSA/HRA participation of some 75%. And that's without a transparency program like Aetna's.
But the “acid test” is whether, after all of the hype (or maybe because of it), do HDHP’s (High Deductible Health Plans) really save money?
According to a report offered by eHealthInsurance, health savings accounts seem to be accomplishing two worthy goals: lower premiums and a fewer uninsured folks. Last year, apparently, consumers paid (on average) about 17% less for individual plans than the year before. And eHealthInsurance says that almost half of the folks who bought their HDHP’s had been previously uninsured. Kudos!
If there’s any real downside, it’s that agents and brokers still aren’t sold on the idea. How can they be, when almost half of us "can't make a cogent argument for or against them.
Interesting developments.
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