Enrollment in consumer-directed health plans grew by 19 percent in 2012, increasing from 33 million in 2011 to 39 million last year, new analysis out Monday found.

A record number of employers are offering those plans, while more employees are taking advantage of them, according to an analysis of the Mercer National Survey of Employer Sponsored Health Plans commissioned by the American Association of Preferred Provider Organizations.

More than one-third of large employers (36 percent) offered CDHPs in 2012, up from 32 percent the year before, while 22 percent of small employers offered employees a CDHP option, up from 20 percent in 2011.

The study also found that 59 percent of the nation’s largest employers — those with 20,000 or more employees — offered CDHPs in 2012, up from 48 percent the year before. And 62 percent of these employers expect to offer CDHPs in 2013 and 68 percent by 2018.

Sixteen percent of all employees with employer-sponsored plans chose CDHPs in 2012 — showing larger enrollment growth than any other type of insurance plan. This trend corresponds with a slight, but steady decline in HMOs over that same period, researchers said.

Karen Greenrose, AAPPO President and CEO, said that health care’s uncertain environment is part of the reason for increasing popularity of CDHP plans.

“As our economy continues to stumble and the fate and feasibility of the Affordable Care Act remains in question, employers of all sizes continue to seek innovative ways to reduce what they spend to cover their employees,” she said. “Given the cost savings inherent in the consumer-directed model, it’s clear that employers — especially our largest ones — are increasingly looking to CDHPs to do that.”

The hope is that consumer-directed health plans curb rising premiums for employers while driving employee engagement and responsibility for their health care choices.

The study also found that the trend is likely to continue in the near future as well, with 40 percent of employers of all sizes expecting to offer a CDHP in the next five years. 

Those plans — and its associated products, such as health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts — have seen massive growth recently.

So far in 2013, companies have reported record-breaking HSA numbers. UMB Healthcare said earlier in the year that its HSA balances grew 55 percent in the past year, reaching $615 million as of Jan. 31. Fidelity Investments reported a 53 percent increase in its health savings accounts in 2012.

According to the AAPPO, of the 246 million Americans that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates have private or government health insurance, an estimated 200 million were enrolled in PPO-based plans, including point-of-service and consumer-driven plans. HMO enrollees represented the remaining 44 million (or roughly 18 percent), with the remainder in traditional indemnity plans.

See also:

Many HR managers remain confused by PPACA

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Small biz owners see harm in retirement shortfall