Asparity Decision Solutions, a leading provider of decision support and data solutions in health care and employee benefits, reports that employees used its health plan selection tools during the 2009 open enrollment season to control their health care costs. Those employees also noted that the online tools played an instrumental role in helping them to make an informed medical plan choice. Asparity functions similar to the exchanges being discussed in the national health reform debate, where individuals have health plan choices and use decision support tools to select a health plan. Asparity provides the tools to 70 Fortune 1000 companies and makes them available free to all federal employees who participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. (For more information, please go to www.PlanSmartChoice.com .)
“Asparity’s decision support for health plan selection is a type of exchange that is critical to health reform’s success,” said Colleen M. Murphy, President and CEO of Asparity Decision Solutions. “Our results prove that individuals who have both a choice of health plans and an independent, objective toolset to evaluate those options select a medical plan that is best for their personal and financial situation.” In 2009, Asparity found the following:
- Decision support users projected spending $3,515 or five percent of their income (based on an average of $67,252) on their total health care costs (i.e., employee contributions and out-of-pocket expenses). They reduced their total health care costs by $238 in tax savings or about seven percent by participating in a Flexible Spending Account.
- Financial issues drove health plan choice. Decision support users were most concerned with employee contributions, annual deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums, which significantly affect an individual’s total health care costs. They also considered the cost of services, such as office visits and prescription drugs, especially if they were medically needy consumers.
- By spending an average of 12 minutes using Asparity’s online services to select a health plan, 40 percent of all decision support users enrolled in the medical plan option that best met their personal needs and financial circumstances. Users also reported that the tools not only made selecting a health plan easier, but guided them to make more informed decisions.
Some of the most interesting statistics that were generated from Asparity’s results dealt with the differences in health insurance choices made by individuals making less than $60,000 compared to those making more than $60,000. Those making less than an annual salary of $60,000:
- Projected spending an average of five to 15 percent (or more) of their income on health care given their medical plan options and estimated medical usage, in comparison to those who make more than $60,000 and spend between three to seven percent of their income. As Murphy explained, “Higher income employees spend about the same proportion of their income on health care regardless of which plan they choose, so personal needs such as out-of-network coverage drive their choice. Everyone else has to budget their health care.”
- Often chose a more expensive health plan that was easier to budget on a month-to-month basis because of its plan design. For example, Exclusive Provider Organizations were more expensive on average ($4,411 in total costs), but their year-over-year enrollment increased from 12 to 21 percent when offered. Consumer Directed Health Plans with Health Reimbursement Accounts were less expensive ($3,198), but enrollment declined from 19 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2009 when offered in both years. “Employees who are living paycheck to paycheck struggle with unexpected expenses, such as a deductible, especially if they have to wait for funds to be repaid from their FSA or an HRA,” said Murphy.
- Disproportionately waived health insurance coverage. While this segment accounted for 54 percent of the population, it also accounted for 60 percent of those who waived coverage. Although some may elect coverage through a spouse or partner, others may go without coverage for themselves because they can’t afford it and enroll their children in a publicly-subsidized plan, if eligible.
Besides its decision support tools, Asparity provides its point-of-purchase data about populations’ buying behavior and health plans’ performance to employers and health plans. The information can help employers and health plans evaluate plan design, product offerings, and pricing strategy, especially the effect of limiting plan choice on employees given their income levels. “The concept of an exchange works best when all stakeholders—individual consumers, employers and their employees, and health plans—get the information they need to fully participate in the health insurance marketplace,” explained Murphy.
About Asparity Decision Solutions
Asparity provides decision support and data solutions for the management of health care and employee benefits . The company owns patented technology in conjoint analysis and advanced software applications that it delivers directly to corporate clients, through strategic partners, and in a publicly-available Web portal ( PlanSmartChoice.com ) for participants in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The company is headquartered in Durham, North Carolina. To find out more, please visit www.asparity.com or contact Brigid Gallagher at (919) 688-1430 x1025.