Researchers at the Employee Benefit Research Institute have found data hinting that low-income members of traditional health plans may be facing fewer cost-related health care delays.

The data appear in health care consumer engagement survey.

Researchers polled 2,007 U.S. adults ages 21 to 64 through the Internet in August. All participants said they have private insurance through an employer-sponsored group plan or an individual or family plan they have bought themselves.

The researchers compared participants in traditional health plans, “consumer driven” high-deductible health plans that include personal health accounts, and high-deductible health plans without health accounts.

The researchers found, for example, that the health account plans were more likely than the other types of plans to offer health risk assessments, but that traditional plans and health account plans were about equally likely to offer health promotion programs.

About 53% of the health account plan members who had access to an employer-sponsored health promotion program participated, compared with 42% of the participants in traditional plans and 43% of the participants in ordinary high-deductible plans.

Members of the 3 different types of plans expressed similar views about how likely they were to prefer a cheaper doctor. Only 14% of the traditional plan members said they would be “extremely interested” in using a provider network with low out-of-pocket costs for patients, but only 20% of the health account plan members said they would be extremely interested in the bargain provider network.

In 2008, participants in traditional plans reported a big jump in delays in getting health care due to cost, while participants in the high-deductible plans and health account plans reported higher but relatively steady levels of cost-related delays in getting care.

Overall, 28% of high-deductible plan members reported cost-related delays, down from 30% in 2007 and 32% in 2008.

About 34% of high-deductible plan members with health problems and 39% with annual household income under $50,000 reporting cost-related delays. The percentages were about the same as in 2007 and 2008.

For traditional plan members, the overall cost-related delay rate was 15%, down from 22% in 2008 and down from 16% in 2007.

For traditional plan members with health problems, the cost-related delay rate fell to 17%, from 23% in 2008, and down from 18% in 2007.

For traditional plan members with incomes under $50,000, the cost-related delay rate fell to 18%, down from 35% in 2008 and from 26% in 2007.

In the health account plan category, the cost-related delay rate fell to 22% for all members, from 26% in 2008, and to 29%, from 32%, for members with health problems. For health account plan members with incomes under $50,000, the cost-related delay rate increased to 38%, from 33%.

Paul Fronstin, who wrote the survey report, said that EBRI analysts are not sure why the cost-related delay rate fell so much more for traditional plan members than for the other survey participants.

The survey question did not change, but it is not clear whether the delay drop for traditional plan members was the result of changes in health coverage, a statistical blip, or some other factor, Fronstin says.