HealthcareTomorrow

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Saving Healthcare

Saving Healthcare - I believe that Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) will have a significant and positive impact on how healthcare is purchased and utilized. Detractors say that HSAs don't work for everyone - and that may be true - but HSAs have major advantages that will thrust them into a prominent role in our industry.

First, employers will realize that HSAs will save them a significant amount of money on health expenditures. HSAs are basically a shift from a defined benefit to a defined contribution - this transition has already taken place with retirement benefits. This will not take employers completely out of the healthcare purchasing business, but it will significantly change the employers role in healthcare utilization decisions - an area that has always been awkward for employers. The end-user of healthcare services (the employee/patient) , will finally be the one making the healthcare purchasing decisions.

This is the second main advantage of HSAs: the patient becomes the purchaser. Little argument needs to be made why this is a benefit, though some have questioned whether or not the patient has the capacity to be a good purchaser of healthcare services. This, I imagine, will be a self-correcting problem. There are innumerable resources available for consumers to make smart purchasing decisions - websites, consumer guides, entire networks on television; once patients become purchasers in any significant number, the same type of resources will materialize and enable better decision making.

In light of this coming trend, this question must be answered: what is the provider community going to do with consumer driven healthcare? Indeed, the insurance industry is already offering HSAs and other consumer-driven products. The simple answer, in broad terms, is that providers will need to revisit not only how they market their products to potential patients, but the very structure of how they provide care. A timely article from HealthLeaders entitled Hospitals and Consumer-Driven Healthcare: Five Marketing Moves offers a number of excellent suggestions for hospitals on the marketing front. On the structure side of the question, providers need to ask what the "consumer-driven patient" is truly looking for - one-stop shopping, integrated services, common sense billing, a comprehensive approach to their health.

The hope behind consumer-driven healthcare and HSAs is that the patient will be able to purchase care that meets their health needs better. It is time for healthcare providers to offer that kind of care.

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