Objective: To assess the impact of a health savings account (HSA)-eligible plan on utilization and expenditures in an employer-sponsored Midwestern health plan which offered a traditional plan from 2003 through 2004 that was fully replaced by an HSA-eligible plan in 2005 and 2006.
Study design: Retrospective pre-post design with a control group.
Methods: Medical and pharmacy claims of plan members younger than 65 years who were continuously enrolled throughout the 4-year study period were used to evaluate the impact of switching to the HSA-eligible plan. Expenditure and utilization measures were compared with those for a control group covered by employers in the same industry and geographic location, while controlling for patient characteristics.
Results: The HSA-eligible plan was associated with significantly lower total expenditures (-17.4%), fewer and less costly office visits (-13.6% and -20.3%, respectively), fewer emergency department (ED) visits (-20.1%), lower pharmacy expenditures (-29.2%), lower expenses per drug (-27.9%), a reduced likelihood of mammograms (odds ratio [OR] = 0.55, P <.05) and Papanicolaou tests (OR = 0.66, P <.05), and a borderline significant reduction in routine physical exams (OR = 0.76, P <.10). The HSA-eligible plan also was associated with increased outpatient facility expenditures (5.1%, P <.05).
Conclusion: Employer-sponsored HSA-eligible plans appear to be associated with lower healthcare expenditures and/or utilization, particularly for office visits, ED visits, and pharmacy. However, they also may discourage preventive care, leading to increased long-term medical costs. Employers offering HSA-eligible plans should ensure that there are no financial barriers for preventive services.