Minnesota leads in use of new health plans

8:46 AM, Mar 16, 2007   |    comments
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Minnesota companies are at the forefront of a national trend to offer health insurance plans that put more decisions in the hands of their employees, with an eye toward reducing costs, a new study has found. The study released Thursday by benefits consultant Watson Wyatt Worldwide showed that more than 50 percent of large employees in the state offered consumer-driven health plans, compared with 38 percent throughout the nation. The new health plans, like most experiments in the health care, are intended to reduce spiraling costs. A separate study also released Thursday by M&I Bank showed health care premiums rose for 70 percent of Twin Cities employers last year. The bank survey found that just over one in three Minnesota businesses absorbed the rising costs, while 44 percent of employers reduced coverage or shifted costs to employees. Nearly half of those questioned in the bank study said they intended to attempt to control costs by offering consumer-driven plans to their employees. "I think this shows the extent to which employers in Minnesota are willing to look at any and all solutions to keep health care available to employees," said Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. The new health plans might be popular with the employers, but they might not be so great for employees. The plans often have high deductibles and other features that shift more of the medical bill to the patient. According to Watson Wyatt, enrollment in consumer-driven plans is about 8 percent nationally. Results in Minnesota are slightly higher. The study said companies that offer those plans have better luck in controlling health care costs. "Those that are getting more than 10 percent participation are seeing results in cost savings and in health improvement plans," said Mark Bilderback, head of Watson Wyatt's health care practice in Minneapolis. Minnesota employers also exceed the national average in providing employees with health care information, according to Watson Wyatt. About 60 percent of companies teach their employees on managing costs. "From a health care perspective, Minnesota historically has been pretty much ahead of the curve," Bilderback said. "No question, employers are providing more tools and giving employees more information. We have more of a consumerism effort in Minnesota."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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