BOSTON, March 13 (UPI) -- People on high-deductible health plans go to the emergency room 10 percent less than patients on traditional plans, says a U.S. study.
"Our study showed that, for most members, the high-deductible plan seemed to work as intended," said Frank Wharam, the Harvard study's lead author. "Patients went to the emergency room less frequently for non-emergency conditions."
The research was performed at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The authors compared 60,000 people enrolled in a traditional health insurance plan in Massachusetts with more than 8,700 people working for employers with high-deductible plans that covered office visits and prescription drugs, but subjected emergency care to deductible requirements.
The research revealed a slight decline in first-time emergency visits for people on high-deductible plans and a 25 percent reduction in repeat visits, mostly for non-severe conditions such as headaches, nausea, or colds. High severity conditions such as asthma or kidney stones were not affected.
The authors stressed that more research is needed to determine the long-term health consequences of high-deductible plans and their impact on different segments of the population.
"It will be important to determine how the health of low-income and chronically ill patients is affected," said Wharam. "Our study could not provide conclusive answers. Ideally, high-deductible plans will be structured so that all patients readily seek care when they think they have an emergency."
The study was published in the march 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.