Entries in Consumers (74)


High Deductible Plans, Absentee Employer Contributions and the Burden of Employee Cost Sharing

By Clive Riddle, October 11, 2019

Much is being said about the increasing burden of employee health insurance cost sharing, which continues to far outpace employee wage increases and other cost of living indexes. The prevalence of high deductible plans is often cited as a significant factor adding to this burden. Perhaps not enough is being said about the prevalence of employers that do not make any or adequate account contributions for such high deductible plans, and the role of these absentee employers in adding to the employee burden.

The current issue of MCOL's ThoughtLeaders asks "What are the stakeholder implications going forward arising from employee health plan cost sharing increasing at twice the rate of wages during the past decade?”

Lindsay Resnick, EVP at Wunderman Thompson Health opens his response by telling us the implications "can be summed-up on one word: OOPS…Out Of Pocket Spending. As corporate stakeholders – providers, payers, pharma and employers – joust in a ‘Game of Thrones’ battle over payment schemes, network configurations, price manipulation, and bureaucratic machinations, what about the ultimate stakeholder, America’s healthcare customer. For them, healthcare has become an amalgam of medical, financial and lifestyle transactions where they’re searching for value and grappling with mind-numbing personal decisions."

Natasha Elsner, Research Manager, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions comments that "high-deductible plans—that have become a common benefit option—are blunt instruments: they can discourage utilization of both low-value and high-value services, and such plans can be particularly challenging for people with ongoing health care needs, as well as those with low and even moderate incomes."

Dudley E. Morris, Senior Advisor, BDC Advisors notes that "compared to the press attention paid to Medicare-For-All, the escalating cost of large employer health plan insurance for working families is something of an elephant in the room in terms of the current political discourse."

A couple of weeks ago Kaiser Family Foundation released its 2019 Employer Health Benefits Survey,  Their comprehensive report found that “"despite the nation’s strong economy and low unemployment, what employers and workers pay toward premiums continues to rise more quickly than workers’ wages and inflation over time. Since 2009, average family premiums have increased 54% and workers’ contribution have increased 71%, several times more quickly than wages (26%) and inflation (20%)."

Section Eight of their 238-page report covers “High-Deductible Health Plans with Savings Option.” They found that 28% of firms offering health benefits offer a HDHP with a HRA (Health Reimbursement Account) or Health Savings Account (HSA). 30% of covered workers are enrolled in an account based HDHP (20% in 20140; with 7% in HRAs and 23% in HSAs. The average general deductibles for HDHP/HRAs was $2,583 for single, and $5,335 for family, and the average firm contribution being $1,713 for singles (67% of the deductible) and $3,255 for family (61% of the deductible.) The HRA employer contribution could certainly be worse (although it should be noted HRAs are not portable after the employee leaves the company.)

The problem is that for HSAs, the contribution is worse, and that’s where most of the enrollees are. The average general deductibles for HDHP/HSAs was $2,476 for single, and $4,673 for family, and the average firm contribution being $572 for singles (23% of the deductible) and $1,062 for family (23% of the deductible.)  It isn’t that all employers are miserly -  the KFF report notes that “there is considerable variation in the amount that employers contribute to savings accounts.”

But the bigger problem beyond employer contributions averaging under one fourth of the deductible requirement, is that 55%pf employers offering qualified HDHP/HSA plans do not make any contribution. Many of these employers are small businesses, meaning the percentage of total employees receiving a contribution is better, but still – 25% of total single employees receive no contribution and 26% of families receive no contribution.

Looking at the contributions on a total dollar basis for all HSAs, the Devinir Midyear HSA Market Statistics & Trends report found that 31% of 2019 HSA contributions come from employers (52% from current employees, 13% from individuals, and 3% from IRA rollovers and Other.)

The problem caused by Absentee Employers and Miserly Employers when it comes to account contributions, is that the true promise and potential of consumer choice and engagement in health care decision making is severely compromised when the consumer doesn’t have the financial resources to make and engage in the options available. It is one thing for a consumer to make selections taking cost into consideration when they have an account that can fund an adequate portion of the cost involved – and their decisions involve allocating those funds and retaining any savings for future healthcare needs. If is quite another to make those decisions when they are burdened by deductibles that have skyrocketed over the past decade without the backing of adequate employer account contributions and don’t have the personal resources to cover that gap.


Healthcare Consumers on Technology and Decision Making: A Dozen Things To Know from a UnitedHealthcare Survey

by Clive Riddle, September 27, 2019

As healthcare consumers are about to embark into a decade, a new survey tells us they are turning even more to technology for health information, decision-making and purchasing. UnitedHealthcare has released results from their fourth-annual Consumer Sentiment Survey, which “examines Americans’ attitudes and opinions about multiple areas of health care, including open enrollment preparedness, technology and transparency trends and health literacy.” United tells us the study focuses on three areas: 1) Open Enrollment Preparedness; 2) Technology & Transparency Trends; and 3) Health Literacy & Consumer Preferences.


Here’s a dozen takeaways from the survey:

  1. A new-high 37% have used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for care (14% in 2012), including 50% of Millennials
  2. 46% cited a health care professional, such as a doctor or nurse, as the first source of information about specific health symptoms or ailments, and 20% first use the internet or a mobile app
  3. 39% who shopped online changed the facility or care provider (or both) as a result
  4. 64% “never” know the Rx costs before leaving the doctor’s office; 21%  “sometimes” know and 11% always know the price.
  5. 45% said they would be interested in their physician using AI in care decisions (including 55% of Millennials); and 28% were uninterested
  6. For those interested in AI support for physicians, 46% were motivated by the potential for a more accurate diagnosis; 31% cited the potential to reduce human error; and 15% hoped for faster treatment decisions
  7. 39% would likely use telemedicine in the future to access care (up 2 from 2016)
  8. 75% of those with benefits say they are prepared for the fall’s open enrollment season (down 2 points from last year) including 84% of Gen-Xers and 78% of Baby Boomers, but just 69% of Millennials and 44% of Gen-Z.
  9. 36% devote less than one hour to open enrollment; 27% spent between one and three hours; and 23% said more than three hours.
  10. 55% check if their doctors are in-network for the health plan they intend to select
  11. 59% successfully defined plan premium, 53% defined the meaning of deductible, while 335 could define out-of-pocket maximum and 21% define co-insurance
  12. 66% preferred speaking directly with a customer service representative to resolve health plan issues; and 10% preferred a self-service option through an app or online.

Consumer Insights and Kaiser Initiative on SDOH

By Clive Riddle, May 10, 2019

McKinsey has just published various insights from their 2019 Consumer Social Determinants of Health Survey, which found that compared to those whose social need is met, respondents (2,010 surveyed with government program coverage or uninsured and below 250% of federal poverty level) that:

  • Reported food insecurity were 2.4 times more likely to report multiple ER visits, and 2,0 times more likely to be hospitalized
  • Reported unmet transportation needs were 2.6 times more likely to report multiple ER visits, and 2,2 times more likely to be hospitalized
  • Reported unmet community safety needs were 3.2 times more likely to report multiple ER visits

Encouraging news from the survey for health plan advocates of SDOH was that 85% of respondents reporting unmet social needs said they would use a social program offered by their health insurer. Regardless of their social needs, respondents were interested in these types of health plan SDOH programs as follows: 

  • 50% were interested in grocery store discounts for healthy foods
  • 48% were interested in free memberships at local gyms
  • 45% were interested in a wellness dollar account used towards wellness services of their choice
  • 41% were interested in total reimbursement of home improvement purchases to address health issues
  • 40% were interested in after-hours drop-in clinics at lower or no cost 

Speaking of health plans, Kaiser Permanente has just announced their new Thrive Local initiative, a “a social care coordination platform” with “a network of public agencies and community-based organizations that will support” Kaiser “members to meet their social needs.”


Kaiser says that “starting this summer, closed-loop and bidirectional communication will provide confidence that referral, follow-up and ongoing patient/family engagement happen. Improved cross-sector collaboration and communication will also reduce the unintentional trauma and stigma that our patients and families may experience. Beyond Kaiser Permanente members and patients, community-based organizations will also benefit through improved decision support, automation, and relevance of the referrals they receive from their health system. This connectivity and interoperability between health care and social organizations and agencies will redefine the meaning of ‘provider network’ in this new world as the network of providers of health, health care, and social needs to address total health of our communities.”


Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Unite Us to launch the program, as tells us that Thrive Local within three years “will be available to all of Kaiser Permanente’s 12.3 million members and the 68 million people in the communities Kaiser Permanente serves.





Speaking Tooth to Power: J.D. Power Releases Dental Plan Satisfaction Report

By Clive Riddle, February 15, 2019 

J.D. Power has released their annual Dental Plan Satisfaction Report for 2018, which finds that “overall dental plan customer satisfaction has improved by 5 points (on a 1,000-point scale) to 775 from 2017.”  

J.D. Power reports that “DentaQuest (805) ranks highest, performing particularly well in the customer service, communication, and cost factors. HumanaDental (784) ranks second and myCignaDental (782) ranks third.” 

And just who is DentaQuest, who has now been ranked first for the third year in a row? They tout that they “manage dental and vision benefits for more than 27 million Americans and provide direct care to patients through our network of more than 85 oral health centers in five states,” and that they provide “dental solutions for Medicaid and CHIP, Medicare Advantage, small and large businesses and individuals throughout the U.S.” 

Steve Pollock, president and chief executive officer of DentaQuest.  Pollock says the company’s continued investment in technology and person-centered care solutions as reasons for the high customer satisfaction. “While it is incredibly gratifying to see the high satisfaction among our members, we know that true success means ensuring everyone has access to quality oral health care,” Pollock said. “Our Preventistry™ platform, which is a prevention-based approach that defines oral health as more than visits to the dentist, will ultimately improve oral health for all.”


Premium and Deductible Cost Sharing: A Dozen Key Findings from the Commonwealth Fund

by Clive Riddle, December 7, 2018 

CMS has just touted the National Health Expenditure growth of 3.9% for 2017 is at historic low levels, with the Office of the Actuary stating “prior to the coverage expansions and temporary high growth in prescription drug spending during that same period, health spending was growing at historically low rates. In 2017, health care spending growth returned to these lower rates and the health spending share of GDP stabilized for the first time since 2013.” 

Meanwhile, The Commonwealth Fund paints a different picture from another perspective, and has just released a 21-page DataBrief: The Cost of Employer Insurance Is a Growing Burden for Middle Income Families, with lead author Sara Collins commenting “The cost of employer health insurance premiums and deductibles continues to outpace growth in workers’ wages. This is concerning, because it may put both coverage and health care out of reach for people who need it most — people with low incomes and those with health problems. Policies that would reduce health care burdens on employees include fixing the Affordable Care Act’s family coverage glitch, requiring employers to exclude some services from the deductible, and increasing the required minimum value of employer plans.” 

The Commonwealth Fund tells us their study uses “the latest data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (MEPS–IC) to examine trends in employer premiums at the state level to see how much workers and their families are paying for their employer coverage in terms of premium contributions and deductibles. We examine the size of these costs relative to income for those at the midrange of income distribution.” 

Here’s a dozen key findings: 

  1. Average employee premium contributions for single and family plans amounted to nearly 7 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5 percent in 2008. 
  2. In 11 states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas), premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.
  3. Premium and deductible costs amounted to nearly 12 percent of median income in 2017. Added together, the total cost of premiums to workers and potential spending on deductibles for both single and family policies climbed to $7,240 a year in 2017. 
  4. This combined cost ranged from a low of $4,664 in Hawaii to a high of more than $8,000 in eight states (Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia). 
  5. In two states, Mississippi and Louisiana, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.
  6. Premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in nearly every state in 2017. After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, overall premiums for employer health plans (employer and employee share) grew more sharply in 2017, by 4.4 percent for single plans and 5.5 percent for family plans. 
  7. Annual single person premiums rose above $7,000 in eight states (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wyoming) and family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states (Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Wyoming) and the District of Columbia. 
  8. Average premiums for families increased overall in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
  9. As employer premiums have risen, so have workers’ contributions. Between 2016 and 2017, employee premium contributions rose by 6.8 percent to $1,415 for single-person plans and by 5.3 percent to $5,218 for family plans.
  10. Contributions for single plans increased in 32 states, ranging from a low of $675 in Hawaii to a high of $1,747 in Massachusetts. 
  11. Contributions for family plans rose in 35 states and the District of Columbia, with the lowest increase in Michigan ($3,646) and the highest in Delaware ($6,533).
  12. The average deductible for single policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, a 6.6 percent increase. Average deductibles rose in 35 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire.