I've written in the past about how consumer-driven health plans haven't exactly caught fire with consumers. Turns out the high-deductible health plans often end up costing consumers more out-of-pocket than they can afford, especially if they actually, you know, get sick and need to use them. Plus, the plans are complicated: You've got your high-deductible plan, with its myriad coverage rules and limitations, and then you've got the tax-advantaged health savings account that goes along with it, which has its own raft of rules.
No wonder consumers to date haven't embraced these plans, no matter how much employers try to encourage their use. What we're experiencing with consumer-driven healthcare, benefits consultants say, is very similar to what happened 30-odd years ago when employers began to shift away from regular company pension plans and into 401(k) plans. Remember those days, when you not only had to start funding your own retirement but also learn the intricacies of asset allocation and rebalancing your portfolio? A similar shift is happening today with consumers and healthcare, these experts say.
Expanding on that idea, now the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Behavioral Research Associates have released a paper that examines the healthcare lessons that can be learned from the transition to 401(k)'s. It finds that it may be harder than many expect to make the shift to a healthcare system that requires you, the consumer, to play a starring role in directing and paying for your own care. Here are some of the lessons from 401(k)'s that these researchers report may be problematic in the transition to consumer-driven healthcare. Sound familiar? Chances are, even if your employer's plan isn't strictly consumer-driven, you may already be grappling with some of these issues:
It's too soon to know whether consumerism, as it's called, will reshape the healthcare landscape. If it doesn't lead to lower healthcare spending, it may join tightly managed care on the scrapheap of ideas that didn't pan out as employers and others hoped, at least partly because they proved to be unpalatable to the consumers who were supposed to embrace them. What do you think? What would make a consumer-driven plan work for you?