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Quiet Progress

As presidential candidates reveal their health reform proposals and as Congress debates expansion of government programs, companies around the country are calmly searching for their own ways to manage health costs.

The most recent evidence comes from a new study by CIGNA, which shows that first year medical costs trended 12% lower for its consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs for instance, HSAs and HRAs) compared to its HMOs and PPOs.

Additionally, the expenses paid directly by members in Cigna’s CDHPs were like to traditional plans in the first year and 4% lower in the second year, refuting criticisms that consumer-directed plans shift costs to consumers. Moreover, the two-year survey found that use of preventive care increased, CDHP members continued to receive suggested care at rates similar to traditional plan members, and medication compliance, particularly for those with chronic conditions, improved.

"As we debate in earnest, at national and state levels, how to provide insurance for millions of people without protection, consumer-driven plans have to be at the top of the list of reasonable solutions," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

In addition, there is more: HealthPartners, a Minnesota-based health plan, released results of a study it conducted that also demonstrates members who have health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts have lower medical costs and are more engaged in search of out more cost-effective care.

The analysis shows that even when adjusted for poor health burden, health care costs were 4.4 percent lower for HealthPartners members in these consumer directed health plans compared to members in traditional plans. Researchers found CDHP members receiving care from lower cost providers drove the lower costs and that providers used fewer resources such as diagnostic imaging and other procedures.

Both companies say that the cost-saving results have encouraged other employers to offer HSAs and HRAs in the upcoming 2008 open season, which commences in a few weeks.



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