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Key Info Lacking for Health Savings Accounts

Survey of Insurers Shows Consumers Lack Access to Data on Health Care Costs
WebMD Health News

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 particular location.

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