The fifth annual survey on consumer engagement in health care from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) finds that members of consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) are more cost-conscious than enrollees in traditional health plans.

These members also tend to be more engaged in wellness and health promotion programs. Health engagement happens among this group in a variety of behaviors; enrollees in CDHPs are more likely to,

  • Check whether the plan would cover care
  • Ask for generic drugs vs. brands
  • Talk to doctors about drug and treatment options, and their respective costs
  • Have a budget to manage health care expenses
  • And use online cost tracking tools provided by their health plan.

EBRI estimates that 13% of insured Americans enrolled in consumer-directed health plans in 2009, up from 11% in 2008.

The chart clearly underscores the point that, for people in CDHPs, money is a major motivator.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: It is still the case that adults in CDHPs are less likely to have health problems than people enrolled in traditional health plans. The population in CDHPs is less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, less likely to be obese, and have more money and education.

Here’s a chicken-egg conundrum. “It is not clear from the data whether the differences in consumer engagement can be attributed to plan design differences or whether various plan designs attract a certain kind of individual,” EBRI concludes. Nonetheless, there are statistically significant differences in populations choosing to enroll in a CDHP and those who stick with traditional (FFS, PPO) plans.

Health engagement is fostered through more cost consciousness and greater education of the possibilities of health: that is, the multifactorial approach to health and wellness in lifestyle choices like nutrition, “getting up and moving,” positive attitudes and social connectedness. These factors could prove to be as important in bending the health cost curve as how physicians and hospitals are reimbursed.