More CDHPs Are Coming – Is That A Good Thing?

I think we all see it coming.  It’s a tidal wave of responsibility being pushed from the employer to us the individual.  On paper, this seems like a great thing since 75%+ of healthcare costs are driven by personal behaviors.  On the other hand, this means we actually have to understand the healthcare system and how to make decisions.

Here’s the abstract from a recent Health Affairs article:

Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) are designed to make employees more cost- and health-conscious by exposing them more directly to the costs of their care, which should lower demand for care and, in turn, control premium growth. These features have made consumer-directed plans increasingly attractive to employers. We explored effects of consumer-directed health plans on health care and preventive care use, using data from two large employers—one that adopted a CDHP in 2007 and another with no CDHP. Our study had mixed results relative to expectations. After four years under the CDHP, there were 0.26 fewer physician office visits per enrollee per year and 0.85 fewer prescriptions filled, but there were 0.018 more emergency department visits. Also, the likelihood of receiving recommended cancer screenings was lower under the CDHP after one year and, even after recovering somewhat, still lower than baseline at the study’s conclusion. If CDHPs succeed in getting people to make more cost-sensitive decisions, plan sponsors will have to design plans to incentivize primary care and prevention and educate members about what the plan covers.

You can see some of the growth stats and concerns also in an American Medical News article.  But, as someone who’s live through it, there are a series of issues (all of which are addressable).

  1. Shifting first dollar payment to the individual also shifts a huge burden of time to the individual.  Which bills do I pay?  Which receipts do I send to the HSA?  Which to the HRA?  How much should I put in each account?  What’s the status of my payments?
  2. This only works if I understand my tradeoffs.  What should I be doing differently?  How could I have spent less money?
  3. It can create the wrong incentives.  My regular transactions like pharmacy seem to cost me a huge amount of money every month while my procedures seem very inexpensive.

My point here is that healthcare is like a balloon.  When you step on one area, it doesn’t eliminate the costs.  It simply shifts the costs.  Until we understand the macro-economic impacts of our short-term decisions, it’s unlikely that we’ll really change our path.  I see a huge shift happening and when the tidal wave pulls back it’s going to leave us with a huge Medicare bill in the future as people have put off preventative care only to have more issues in a decade.

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