' News of the Day #440 - HSAs viewed skeptically in <em>Wall Street Journal

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HSAs viewed skeptically in Wall Street Journal

Health Savings Accounts are “faltering” after a “fast start,” and patients are dissatisfied with them, writes Vanessa Fuhrmans (Wall Street Journal 6/12/07).

“The plans do accomplish something of what they intended,” she states. “A raft of data show that people enrolled in the plans do tend to spend less on care than others.”

But low enrollment suggests that they will “stall before they ever hit the mainstream.” For one thing, few employers are spending money on better consumer education, which may be needed to accelerate the growth of the plans.

Citing the Kaiser Family Foundation, she notes that where employees have a choice, “only 19% choose the newfangled plans.”

That is actually “an amazingly strong response for a product that is so new and so different from what people are used to,” writes Greg Scandlen in a letter sent to the editors. “The adoption rate of HSAs and other forms of consumer driven health care is in fact sizzling. This is the fastest adoption of any benefits innovation of my lifetime. Faster than HMOs, IRAs, 401-Ks.”

And according to proponents, Fuhrman writes, the vast majority of those who enroll stay in the HSAs and do not switch back to another type plan.

Only 29% said they were trying to save money in their accounts, Fuhrman observes. But she also remarks that in the individual market and among sole proprietors, the HSA plans and high-deductible insurance may be the only affordable options.

Fuhrman comments on employee frustration over lack of better information about costs, quality, and treatment alternatives. Scandlen thinks that is a good thing. “At last there is a demand for information and a hunger to become better informed about health care.”

More information could quickly become available. HealthCare Partners Medical Group, based in Torrance, California, which serves 500,000 patients, recently posted prices for 58 medical procedures on its website.

“Until recently, patients weren’t asking because insurers paid most of their bills,” writes Lisa Girion (Los Angeles Times 5/28/07).

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