Those of us who feel that the CDHP movement is largely being used as cover by employers for reducing the benefits (i.e. compensation) that they’re paying employees will not be too surprised by this new analysis. The source, Vimo, though is somewhat surprising for two reasons. First, it’s a little technology start-up that’s providing comparison shopping for health, and second—as is clear when you listen to the interview I did with CEO Chini Krishnan—they are more than favorably disposed to the notion of individuals doing their own shopping for not just health insurance but all types of medical goods and services. So it’s hard to imagine them benefiting from bad news about HSAs. Yet what they’ve discovered, confirming research done by the more usual suspects such as HSC, is that as employers convert their benefit offerings over to the HDHPs, they are not funding their employees’ HSAs.
Here’s the key part from their analysis:
First, the difference (in numbers) between HDHP (3,168,000) and HSA (820,000) means that there are a lot of individuals within the group and individual markets who aren’t opening HSAs, even though they’re entitled to them. Second, HSA asset levels are also lackluster. The same AHIP study lists the average HDHP deductibles as HDHPs $2,378 for single coverage and $4,760 for family coverage. The average HSA balance in the Inside Consumer Directed Care survey ($1,180) is less than fifty percent of the average deductible for single coverage.The simple fact is that HSA creation and asset levels are lagging HDHP enrollment by a significant margin.
And realistically given that some people are funding their full HSAs, given that the average is well below half the maximum, the median HSA account probably contains close to $0. What’s going on then? Well Vimo knows the answer.
Certainly there are immediate and significant savings available when companies or individuals migrate to HDHPs. This cost differential can be pocketed as a one time gain, or it can be used to fund most or all of the HDHP deductible by depositing the difference into an associated Health Savings Account. It would seem that many employers are opting for the one time gain.
If you’re in a business which depends on these accounts and CDHPs being adopted by a bunch of happy consumers, you can see that there is plenty of potential for angst amongst employees who discover that the move to the CDHP is basically telling them that they have to dip into their own pocket for something the company used to provide. In what is a very considered and well put-together report—which I’d recommend you read all of—Vimo discusses the impact of this “transfer” on both consumers and employers. And true to their business model they are squarely on the side of looking out for consumers and employees.
I approve of them telling the truth, even if it’s a truth that opponents of the CDHP movement will highlight. After all, if this thing is done wrong, the longer term political consequences may be a future in which there is no such thing as a high-deductible plan or HSA—and that will leave Vimo with a whole different business problem.