In the age where we can finance everything from houses to cars to couches, it’s only logical that high-dollar items like health care services are not far behind. Interesting data has been published which indicates that growing numbers of consumers enrolled in high-deductible consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) that include Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) may soon use financing to pay hospitals, physicians, and laboratories for their healthcare.

The San Francisco Business Times recently reported that, as of January, about 3.2 million Americans were enrolled in high-deductible plans. However, just 820,000 of these consumers (about 26%), had opened and funded their HSAs. Source of this information was “Inside Consumer-Directed Care,” a newsletter published by Atlantic Information Services.
This situation will have consequences for hospitals, physicians, and laboratories. It means that a significant portion of consumers currently enrolled in health plans with HSAs will not have sufficient funds in their health savings account to pay for health services. This is why some insurance companies are chartering their own banks. For example, UnitedHealth Group founded Exante, a bank organized specifically to handle HSA funds and provided other related financial services (see The Dark Report, December 26, 2005).

Why aren’t more consumers funding their HSAs? Experts tell Dark Daily that this is because many consumers don’t yet fully understand how their high-deductible health insurance plan works in tandem with their HSA. These experts expect three things to happen over time.

First, employers are likely to spend more resources on communication and education to help their employees better understand these high-deductible health plans. Second, insurance companies will be offering financing arrangements that allow the consumer to use his or her HSA to borrow the money needed to pay the medical bill. That debt will be paid off by monthly payroll deductions. Third, more companies are likely to provide employer-matched funding for their employee’s HSAs. This employer-match portion will be similar to the arrangements frequently used with 401-K plans and similar retirement programs.

In the short term, laboratories and pathology groups are not likely to see much impact from under-funded HSAs. Over time, it is believed that consumers will become more knowledgeable about their high-deductible health plans work. Consumers will also avail themselves of employer-match funding programs for their HSAs and will utilize credit health plan-sponsored credit plans to pay their medical bills.

Dark Daily observes that the adoption of HSAs in the United States is likely to continue, despite any implementation issues. That’s because HSAs have been used successfully for decades in countries such as Singapore and South Africa. Laboratories and pathology groups are advised to review their current collection processes to maximize success in getting payments directly from CDHP-insured patients.