It can be difficult to help clients and prospects overcome their fear of health savings accounts and associated high-deductible health plans — and this can be related to typical consumer behavior. The risks are overblown and the rewards are understated in the marketplace. Why? Because Americans have been accustomed to low-deductible, ever-increasing premium plans offered through their employers.

A low-deductible plan discourages the insured person from looking for value. Value is derived from cost and quality considerations, and it is very difficult to do this math, or care about it, if a third party is paying for every single health care expense. Sure, a higher deductible may seem risky if the prospect doesn’t think they can meet it. But can they afford to pay for unsustainable premium increases driven by the lack of focus on cost and quality — or value?

The auto insurance metaphor
The auto insurance metaphor can be a key tactic in explaining the benefits of a health savings account and attached high-deductible health plan. Over the years, Americans’ love for cars has been protected by ever-evolving auto insurance policies. We have become accustomed to finding affordable insurance on or offline by playing with the coverage plan — the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Why? Because the auto insurance company believes that when the driver is exposed to more risk, they will drive more safely.

So the first step is to explain that a high-deductible health plan, like that of auto insurance, can be rewarding by way of lower premiums and financial incentives to be healthy and safe.

The advantages of an HSA-qualified health plan go beyond those of higher-deductible auto insurance policies. The HSA does not have an analog in the auto insurance industry. The tax advantages and long-term planning benefits of an HSA further augment the benefits of the associated higher-deductible health plan. Just as people have understood over the last 20 years that retirement has gone to the way of the 401(k) defined contribution system, the same holds true for health care. HSAs help people position themselves for a financially secure future, despite the inevitable growing personal expenses related to health maintenance and the effects of aging.

At the recent White House Health Care Summit, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, told the president “We are past the Harry and Louise moment. We’re at the ‘Thelma and Louise’ moment,” he said, referring to the popular 1991 movie. “And we are heading for the cliff.” The Harry and Louise commercials that killed federal health reform in 1993 now have an auto industry metaphor, both in the way we explain HSAs to consumers and the reference to Thelma and Louise and their driving habits in that lovely convertible. The risks of driving and rewards of auto insurance are clear when driving any car, as they should be when protecting one’s own health, wellness, and pocketbook.

Phil Micali is the founder and CEO of the software-as-education provider bWell-informed LLC and bWell International Inc., a consultancy serving employers and providers. He can be reached at pmicali@bwell-inc.com or 917-254-4151 ext. 102.