People in high-deductible health plans generate fewer medical bills overall, a new report finds, but they wind up paying more out-of-pocket than those in traditional health plans.

Neither finding is surprising, study authors said, but they show employers and workers the consequences of selecting plans with big deductibles that are becoming more commonplace.

High-deductible plans come with lower premiums for workers. But the study shows enrollees should expect to spend more on the back end should they use care, said Amanda Frost, a researcher with the Health Care Cost Institute, the insurance-industry backed nonprofit that conducted the analysis.

For employers that sponsor health plans, the study shows the cost-control promise that comes with what are called “consumer-driven health plans,” called CDHPs, for short.

“One of the design purposes behind one of these consumer-driven health plans is to sort of reduce spending by reducing unnecessary care,” Frost said. “We did observe lower per capita spending, and lower rates of services use for our CDHP population.”

In 2014, total spending on health care within high-deductible plans was $4,481 per capita. That’s about $520 less per person than the $5,140 per person in non-CDHP plans.

That same year, individuals in high-deductible plans paid an average of $1,083 out-of-pocket on health care, Frost said. That was $374 more per capita than by people in other types of health plans, where average out-of-pocket spending was $709.

The numbers don’t mean the high-deductible plan is a worse deal, Frost said. The study didn’t quantify how much consumers saved on the front end from lower premiums, she said, and some employers help workers with out-of-pocket costs by putting money into a health savings account.

“If consumers know ahead of time what their premium payments are going to be, we’re just tying to add a little more information to that and say: And here’s what your actual out-of-pocket health payments could be, in addition to your premium payments,” Frost said.

Researchers drew on data from three large national insurers including Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare.

It includes spending for about 40 million privately insured people under the age of 65.


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck