Lower-income workers get less health care with HSA-eligible health plans

The Impact of an HSA-Eligible Health Plan on Health Care Services Use and Spending by Worker Income

By Paul Fronstin, Ph.D. and M. Christopher Roebuck, Ph.D.
Employee Benefit Research Institute, Issue Brief, August 2016

This study examines whether there is variation by worker income on how an HSA-eligible health plan affects health care services use and spending. Does the typically flat-dollar gap between a health plan’s deductible and the employer contribution to a health savings account (HSA) have a bigger impact on the use of health care services among lower- income workers than it does for higher-income workers?

The data for this study come from a large employer that offered an HSA-eligible health plan alongside a preferred provider organization (PPO), includes between 150,000 and 200,000 individuals, and covers health care services use and spending over the six-year period from 2009‒2014.

*  The HSA-eligible health plan was associated with a decline in (non-preventive) outpatient office visits for workers at all income levels, but the decline was over twice as large for workers and their dependents with incomes less than $50,000 as compared with those with incomes of at least $100,000. The decline in specialist visits accounted for most of the decline in outpatient office visits among the group of workers with less than $50,000 in income.

*  There was an across-the-board decline in prescription drug fills regardless of worker income.

*  The HSA-eligible health plan was associated with a reduction in various preventive services by worker income.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Yes, this is yet another report that confirms that enrolling in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans is associated with a decline in physician visits and in high-value preventive services. This negative impact occurs across all income levels but is twice as great amongst lower-income individuals than it is for those with higher incomes.

Yet we continue to see a significant increase in enrollment in high-deductible plans whether or not they are associated with a health savings account. Slowing health care spending by reducing the use of beneficial health care services is not the type of health care policy we should be supporting.

Our current policies are creating more financial barriers to care; they are reducing our choices in our health care professionals; they are increasing administrative waste, and they have have inflamed an epidemic of physician burnout. Yet we continue to let the medical-industrial wonks lead us down this path to the everlasting bonfire.

Hey, aren’t we wonks too? We know a far better path - one that leads to health care nirvana. Why aren’t we doing the leading?