Users of health account plans appear to be much less satisfied than users of traditional managed care plans.

Consultants at Towers Perrin Inc., Stamford, Conn., have published data supporting that conclusion in a report on a survey that compares members of traditional managed care plans with members of plans that offer access to health savings accounts or health reimbursement arrangements.

Only 50% of the account plan members said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the ability of their current plans to protect them against the risk of major health care costs, compared with 65% of the traditional plan members.

Account plan members said they are even less satisfied with other aspects of their plans.

In theory, HSAs and HRAs are supposed to help holders save for retirement, but only 22% of the account plan members said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the ability of the plans to help them prepare for retirement health care expenses, compared with 30% of the traditional plan members.

Only 16% of the health account holders said they are using the accounts to save for retirement health care expenses.

About 71% of the account plan members who believe their plans protect them against major health care risks said their plans are easy to understand and use, but only 16% of the dissatisfied account plan members said their plans are plans are easy to understand and use.

The survey results hint at fundamental differences between the satisfied health account plan members and the dissatisfied members: Only 45% of the dissatisfied members said they explore risks and costs before following doctors’ recommendations. About 64% of the satisfied members said they do explore the risks and costs before following doctors’ recommendations.

Dave Guilmette, managing director of Towers Perrin’s health and welfare practice, says the results show employers and health account plan companies have to do more to reach out to employees if they want the programs to expand.

Account plan “members often have access to the same provider networks as those in the traditional health plans, with the added benefits of being able to save for future medical expenses, but the overall perception on the part of employees is that [the plans] are cheaper and inferior plans,” Guilmette says in a statement accompanying the survey results. “The employees’ views suggest a lack of trust in employer practices and motives surrounding the introduction of [account-based health plan] options…. Any consumer product that scored as low as ABHPs do in terms of customer satisfaction and understanding would be significantly retooled or pulled from the shelves.”