Study: Insurance-savvy employees more cost conscious

Employees who are educated about their health coverage--particularly their out-of-pocket expenses--are more likely to make cost-effective care decisions, according to a survey of about 1,500 government workers in Massachusetts.

The study, conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health and published in The American Journal of Managed Care, found that 62 percent of these employees were aware of the percentage of their total premium they paid personally. Sixty-seven percent knew their copayment for an office visit, while 55 percent remembered how much they'd have to pay for a trip to the emergency room (many who got this wrong had overstated the amount).

Those with greater overall knowledge of their financial responsibilities had a higher ratio of office visits to more costly emergency room visits, the researchers found.

"Although this study cannot be generalized across the country, it does argue for developing strategies to educate patients better about their cost-sharing responsibilities so that costs for everyone can be contained," Amy Lischko, the lead author of the report and former commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, told The Medical News. "As we implement healthcare reform, and as insurance becomes available to millions of previously uninsured people, we have an unprecedented opportunity to provide incentives to use the system efficiently and to educate people about the effects of their behavior on overall healthcare costs."

However, Lischko said the study suggests that just raising copayments alone doesn't necessarily encourage employees to seek typically less expensive doctor office visits. Instead, employers have to work harder to educate workers, reports the Associated Press.

To learn more:
- read this Associated Press article
- here's the study abstract
- read The Medical News story