HSA Plans Cutting Down on Unnecessary Emergency Room Use


According to a recent Medical News Today article, individuals with Health Saving Account (HSA)-type high deductible plans had a 25 percent drop in emergency room use, based on a Harvard Medical School study published in Journal of the American Medical Association. “The study compared approximately 60,000 members enrolled in a traditional health insurance plan in Massachusetts with more than 8,700 members working for employers who switched to offering only a high-deductible plan. The high-deductible plans studied were not federally qualified high-deductible health plans (a.k.a. HSA plans) because office visits and prescription drugs were not subjected to the deductible. The researchers examined patients’ emergency department diagnoses to determine the effect on visits for high severity conditions (like asthma or kidney stones) and low severity conditions (like headaches, nausea, or colds). There was a slight decline in first-time emergency visits for members in high deductible plans and a 25 percent reduction in repeat visits, mostly for non-severe conditions. This suggests that when members realize their responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses, they reduce future emergency department visits for less urgent conditions. Patients in the high-deductible plans were also hospitalized less as a result of both reduced emergency visits and fewer admissions once reaching the emergency department.”
This is just further evidence of the effectiveness of consumer-directed plans on eliminating unnecessary and overuse of health care, in this case the emergency room. HSAs are an important tool in reducing the cost of health care and health insurance by engaging the consumer in making rational and appropriate decisions about when and how much health care to consume.
Sadly, those on Medicaid use the emergency twice as much as the uninsured or those with private insurance. Maybe if those on Medicaid paid significant copays for unnecessary emergency room use, they would react like those with high deductible private plans do and cut back on unneeded trips. In doing so, the Maine taxpayer would have a more affordable Medicaid program as well.