Consumer-driven health care programs are starting to get the attention of agents and brokers.[@@]

The National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., and ChapterHouse, Lisle, Ill., a health care consulting firm, today released a report on the CDHC market based on a survey of health agents and brokers.

The percentage of survey participants who say they see CDHC plans as a possible solution for rising health coverage costs has increased to 77% this year. A year ago, only 12% of agents and brokers surveyed said they were actively recommending CDHC solutions to their clients, according to NAHU Executive Vice President Kevin Corcoran.

Michael Main, a managing partner at ChapterHouse, said about 5% of employers now offer CDHC plans as their only health plan or let employees choose between CDHC plans and other types of plans.

“This study clearly shows that the health care market is still moving at an incremental pace, but in the direction of consumerism,” Corcoran said. “The most radical shifts in plan design are coming from the inclusion of personal savings accounts, but within the familiar [preferred provider organization] structure.”

Corcoran said he thinks the study offers unique insights because it draws on the views of agents and brokers. By speaking with those who helped in the decision-making process, “we can find out not only what companies purchased, but the second and third choice as well,” Corcoran said.

CDHC plans usually combine high-deductible health coverage with health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements or other personal health accounts. Plan members can use the personal health accounts to cover routine health care costs.

Some CDHC plans use traditional preferred provider organization networks and network discounts, but others do without PPO networks or encourage members to negotiate lower rates from out-of-network providers.

CDHC plans seem to be especially popular with smaller, price-conscious employers, and PPO-based plans seem to be more common than other types of plans, Main said.

For now, “the biggest barrier to a more consumer-based health benefits approach is education,” Main said. “In order for CDHC to really take off, health plans must build awareness among employers and producers on the value of consumerism and back it up with competitively priced CDHC plans.”

CDHC companies also may have to make more of an effort to educate employers about the value of CDHC plans, Main said.

“If you look at most major insurance companies, most of them are offering CDHC plans but haven’t figured out how to address the concerns of the members,” Main said. “Insurance companies have traditionally worked very hard to embrace brokers and the plan sponsors but have not embraced the member.”