Great-West Healthcare says it believes the consumer incentive features it sells along with normal-deductible group health plans are helping to hold down plan expenses.[@@]

Great-West, Greenwood Village, Colo., has introduced plans with low deductibles and medium deductibles that include extra financial incentives for consumers to take extra care when scheduling non-emergency care and seeking non-emergency care for ordinary health problems.

The plans put no unusual pressure on members to think about cost when the patients are seeking preventive care or when they are seeking emergency care, hospital care or hospice care.

Consultants at Reden & Anders Ltd., an actuarial firm affiliated with UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., found that employers that adopted the new plans cut utilization by an average of 6.2% between January 2004 and November 2004, Great-West says.

Normally, the actuaries would have expected utilization to increase 3.3% during that period, Great-West says.

In theory, the Great-West program could be more effective at controlling overall benefits costs for employers that want to give employees a choice about whether to enroll in “consumer directed” plans, because employees seem to be more likely to enroll in plans that combine new types of financial incentives with normal deductibles than in high-deductible plans, according to Great-West executives.

Great-West is a unit of Power Corp. of Canada, Montreal.