Health account plan research suggests that the plans may not produce big initial savings, but making apples-to-apples comparisons is still difficult, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Paul Fronstin, a director at EBRI, Washington, has reviewed data on health account programs in a new issue brief. Some of the programs used health savings accounts and some used health reimbursement arrangements.

Health account plan premiums tend to be lower, but that may be partly because workers who voluntarily enroll in a health account plan tend to be somewhat younger and healthier than workers who enroll in traditional plans, Fronstin says.

The researchers who conducted one study found after adjusting for risk factors and benefits adjustment factors that the health account plans themselves were only about 1.5% less expensive than traditional plans, Fronstin says.

One team found that health account plan enrollees were less likely than traditional plan enrollees to take cholesterol medication; another study found that that health account plan enrollees received care with above-average quality for some conditions and average quality for others.

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