Who knew healthcare could be so complex? The GOP proposal for health care reform rests on health savings accounts and high deductible health plans. The basic premise is that price opacity, and deep pocketed third party payers drive up the cost of health care. Giving patients dollars in health savings accounts they control should make them price sensitive, and thus help reduce the cost of healthcare. A recent analysis by Drs. Chandra and others provides an interesting perspective on the matter.
The researchers took a large self insured firm that required all of its employees to switch from an insurance plan that provided free healthcare to a nonlinear, high deductible plan. The switch worked. Health care spending was significantly reduced, but the concern was the mechanism by which spending was reduced. One would like to believe spending reductions related to price shopping, so patients were getting the same services just for cheaper. Unfortunately, it appeared that consumers reduced all spending regardless of whether it was worthwhile or not. Deciding what is worthwhile in healthcare is a complicated business that I will leave for another day but I agree with the general contention of the paper – giving a patient control over health care dollars does not make for a smart price shopper.