Researchers at a congressional think tank say it is too soon to know how health savings account plans and other health account plans will affect health care spending and quality.

Some studies now look at the effects of health account plans on medical costs, but “given the limitations of that evidence, it should be treated cautiously,” according to researchers at the Congressional Budget Office, who assessed the consumer-directed health plan movement at the request of the outgoing chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“Some studies have reported large cost savings from consumer-directed plans, but those results may represent reduced costs for the insurer and not the impact on total health care spending for enrollees,” the CBO researchers write. “Even when the focus is on total expenditures, the savings that are reported may still reflect the impact of reducing the overall value of the coverage (or other factors) and not just the effect of changing its design.”

Better studies should appear as experience with health account plans grows, the researchers predict.

A copy of the CBO study is on the Web at Document Link