Study shows consumer-directed health plans find their niche

February 1, 2006

The number of enrollees in consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) could reach 15 million by 2010 and 30 million by 2015, according to a study by The Zitter Group. The question that the study couldn't answer is whether employers might eventually mandate CDHPs for their employees as a way to control healthcare costs.

SAN FRANCISCO-The number of enrollees in consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) could reach 15 million by 2010 and 30 million by 2015, according to a study by The Zitter Group. The question that the study couldn't answer is whether employers might eventually mandate CDHPs for their employees as a way to control healthcare costs.

Currently, there is no trend toward mandatory CDHPs, but it could happen in the foreseeable future as costs continue to rise, says John Sheehan, an associate of strategy and analytics for The Zitter Group and the study's lead investigator.

As long as CDHPs are just an option, their effect on healthcare costs appears limited, he says, because they primarily attract members who use the fewest healthcare resources. Patients with chronic illnesses would opt to remain in their present plans rather than switching to CDHPs, which discourage healthcare spending.

The consensus among plan decision-makers is that CDHPs fill a niche, primarily for educated, wealthy professionals capable of taking advantage of the tax benefits and lower premiums, the study says. The study revealed other findings.

"Despite the savings potential for enrollees and employers, these plans can result in disaster when coverage is needed because of an emergency or chronic illness," Sheehan says. "What safeguards will ensure that enrollees are getting the care they need and not falling prey to inherent disincentives created by CDHPs?"