Category Archives: Consumerism

Health savings accounts (HSAs): A more substantial retirement savings tool

Health savings accounts (HSAs) have been in the news recently and for good reason. First introduced in 2003, the HSA is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States who enroll in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Since their introduction, these savings accounts have proven to be valuable for participants as they offer a number of tax advantages for qualified health benefit expenses. Recent changes proposed within the Senate and House bills during the effort in 2017 to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) are supporting even further expansion of HSAs, creating even more of an advantage. With these changes, HSAs stand to compete with other standard retirement savings mechanisms, such as tax-deferred 401(k) savings plan contributions, potentially even pushing them into the forefront.

The tax code places certain annual limits on contributions to HSAs, as well as on the HDHP’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. For individual coverage for 2018, the maximum contribution to an HSA is $3,450, the minimum deductible is $1,350, and the maximum out-of-pocket limit is $6,650. These limits are doubled for family coverage. The standard advantages for HSA participants have not changed since they were first introduced in 2003:

• Contributions to HSAs are tax-exempt.
• Those same contributions can be invested and any investment income and appreciation are also tax-exempt.
• Withdrawals are tax-exempt as long as participants use them to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, and dental care.
• HSA funds roll over and accumulate year to year if they are not spent. They are owned by the individual.
• HSA plan contributions are not subject to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax whereas 401(k) plan contributions are.

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Introducing physician-focused consumerism

Physician-focused consumerism is a set of initiatives designed to align physician decision making with high-quality healthcare outcomes provided in a cost-efficient manner. Physician-focused consumerism can include the redesign of financial incentives, greater access to patient data, decision support tools, ongoing education about treatment alternatives, and an understanding of the financial impact of alternatives on patients. It can be the basis for collaborative efforts between employer health plan sponsors, provider systems, and physicians to help achieve high-quality care in a cost-effective manner.

Milliman is well-suited to support employers’ collaborative efforts with accountable care organizations (ACOs) and to review current provider networks to identify the status of physician-focused consumerism. Dan Bostedt offers some perspective in his article “Health plan consumerism: Who is the consumer?

COLAs for retirement, Social Security, and health benefits

With the release of the September 2012 Consumer Price Index (CPI) the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have announced cost-of-living adjusted figures for Social Security and retirement plan benefits, respectively, for 2013.

The 2013 adjusted figures for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) included in this Client Action Bulletin were released by the IRS earlier this year and are provided here for convenience.

This post was also published at RetirementTownHall.com.

High-deductible/health savings account plans continue to increase

According to a survey by Americas Health insurance Plans (AHIP) the number of individuals insured by high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) in conjunction with health savings accounts (HSAs) grew 18.4% this year to 13.5 million from 11.4 million in 2011. AHIP data shows that this type of consumer-driven health plan (CDHP) has increased gradually since it was introduced in 2004. Read more about AHIP’s survey at Workforce.com. You can also read the entire survey here.

One question arises from the aforementioned survey: Do CDHPs help reduce costs? Jack Burke and Rob Pipich’s detailed analysis on high-deductible plans found that when adjustments are made for typical risk and benefit factors, CDHPs deliver cost savings that are modestly better than non-CDHPs. Here is an excerpt:

“Most employers we examined showed savings in the CDHP plan before adjusting for risk and plan design characteristics; however, the bulk of the apparent savings was explained by these adjustments. After adjustments, the reduction in combined employer and employee costs averaged 4.8% before accounting for the utilization-dampening impact of the high deductible. Accounting for the high deductible made the reduction 1.5%. Some employers showed significantly greater reductions.”

This 1.5% reduction is what’s known as “induced utilization” and is a key element of CDHPs. For more, read Milliman’s complete Consumer-Driven Impact Study.

Consumer attitudes about cost control

A recent consumer study indicates that people think insurers should be the ones to educate on health reform and take responsibility for lowering costs. Why is this? American Medical News weighed this question:

Given that the reform law mainly reforms the insurance market, it’s possible consumers believe insurers are going to be the best reference for what is changing, said Tim Lee, principal and consulting actuary in the Houston office of the consulting firm Milliman. “Nobody in any industry understands it better than people who work in the insurance industry.”

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the health insurance trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said insurers have done what they can to help lower the cost of care, including creating disease management programs, providing incentives to take generic drugs and investing in health information technology.

Lee called the survey results about who should reduce costs “a combination of funny and surprising.”

He said there could be a couple of explanations for so many people saying insurers should take responsibility for cutting health care costs: One is that they may remember insurers’ success at cutting costs in the heyday of managed care in the 1990s, and they are willing to see some of those methods return.

Lee said consumers will require a great deal of education to remain open to changes that might keep them from seeing the doctor of their choice or create more hoops for their doctors to jump through.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the doctor, the hospital and the consumer to control the cost,” he said.

But it might be giving the public too much credit to think they are ready for insurers to bring back tightly managed care, Lee said. It’s possible that consumers are considering only their own insurance premiums when it comes to health care costs: “What they may be thinking is, ‘Health care costs are manifested in my premium rate … so clearly the health insurance company must be responsible.’ “

More pharma consumerism?

We’ve seen several interesting examples of healthcare consumerism come out of the prescription drug space in recent years. The Wal-Mart $4 generic program has been well documented and is probably the most prominent example. And now the New England Journal of Medicine has floated a new idea: printing comparative effectiveness information on drug labels. Given concern in certain circles that healthcare reform will install some version of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the United States, the union of comparative effectiveness and consumer choice is intriguing for its simplicity.