Simulating the Impact of Medical Savings Accounts on Small Business

Published in: Health Services Research, v. 35, no. 1, pt. 1, Apr. 2000, p. 53-75

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1999

by Dana P. Goldman, Joan L. Buchanan, Emmett B. Keeler

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OBJECTIVE: To simulate whether allowing small businesses to offer employer-funded medical savings accounts (MSAs) would change the amount or type of insurance coverage. STUDY SETTING: Economic policy evaluation using a national probability sample of nonelderly non-institutionalized Americans from the 1993 Current Population Survey (CPS). STUDY DESIGN: We used a behavioral simulation model to predict the effect of MSAs on the insurance choices of employees of small businesses (and their families). The model predicts spending by each family in a FFS plan, an HMO plan, an MSA, and no insurance. These predictions allow us to compute community-rated premiums for each plan, but with firm-specific load fees. Within each firm, employees then evaluate each option, and the firm decides whether to offer insurance-and what type-based on these evaluations. If firms offer insurance, we consider two scenarios: (1) all workers elect coverage; and (2) workers can decline the coverage in return for a wage increase. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In the long run, under simulated conditions, tax-advantaged MSAs could attract 56 percent of all employees offered a plan by small businesses. However, the fraction of small-business employees offered insurance increases only from 41 percent to 43 percent when MSAs become an option. Many employees now signing up for a FFS plan would switch to MSAs if they were universally available. CONCLUSIONS: Our simulations suggest that MSAs will provide a limited impetus to businesses that do not currently cover insurance. However, MSAs could be desirable to workers in firms that already offer HMOs or standard FFS plans. As a result, expanding MSA availability could make it a major form of insurance for covered workers in small businesses. Overall welfare would increase slightly.

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