Key Info Lacking for Health Savings Accounts
Survey of Insurers Shows Consumers Lack Access to Data on Health Care Costs
April 20, 2005 - Most consumers using new health savings accounts do not
have access to key information on the price and quality of medical care,
according to a survey of major insurance companies.
Supporters of health savings accounts (HSA) say this information is crucial
to controlling rising health care costs.
The HSA law allows individuals who buy high-deductible insurance coverage to
save money for out-of-pocket health costs in tax-free accounts. The
high-deductible insurance plans typically have lower monthly premiums than
standard insurance but often require patients to pay thousands of dollars on
their own before insurance kicks in.
The survey included major insurance companies that cover 800,000 of the
approximately 1.2 million Americans using HSAs.
It shows that more than 55% of insurers offer customers no information on
the quality of services provided by covered hospitals or doctors.
Fewer than six in 10 major insurance companies give consumers any
information on the expected cost of their medical care.
Supporters of HSAs have suggested that providing this information is crucial
to the success of the HSA program. They say consumers who spend their own money
on medical expenses -when armed with this information -- will be less likely to
seek unnecessary care.
"I think the more we give choice to consumers, and the more consumers
are allowed to be in the marketplace designing and shopping for products that
meet their needs, the more likely it is we'll be able to control costs and make
the marketplace work," President Bush said at a National Institutes of
Health event promoting HSAs on Jan. 26.
Congress approved HSAs as part of the 2003 Medicare reform law. Since then,
the availability of quality information targeted to consumers has shown some
improvement, including two new databases designed to offer patients limited
information on the quality of local hospital care.
But Wednesday's survey shows that in most cases, insurers selling the
high-deductible plans that go along with the accounts offer little detailed
information for consumers.
Forty-four percent of 28 major insurers surveyed say they publish no
information on patients' probable medical costs. More than half that do provide
this information give only market-wide averages without specifics to a
At the same time, only half of the surveyed insurers tell patients the cost
of procedures or treatments in exact dollars, offering instead ranges or
"There's a huge education that needs to go along with these
products," says Brent Greenwood, a principal at the Atlanta firm of Reden
& Anders Ltd., which conducted the survey for the American Hospital
Association and the Federation of American Hospitals.
"If you're going out and buying a car and you have no information at all
on prices or options, could you make that decision?" Greenwood says.