Effects of Employer-Offered High-Deductible Plans on Low-Value Spending in the Privately Insured Population

Published in: Journal of Health Economics, Volume 76 (March 2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2021.102424

Posted on RAND.org on February 12, 2021

by Brendan Rabideau, Matthew Eisenberg, Rachel O. Reid, Neeraj Sood

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Enrollment in plans with high deductibles has increased more than seven-fold in the last decade. Proponents of these plans argue that high deductibles could reduce wasteful spending by providing patients with incentives to limit use of low-value services that offer little or no clinical benefit. Others are concerned that patients may respond to these incentives by reducing their use of medical services indiscriminately and regardless of clinical benefit, which may negatively impact health outcomes. This study uses individual-level insurance claims data (2008–2013) and plausibly exogenous changes in plan offerings within firms over time to estimate the intent-to-treat and local-average treatment effects of high-deductible plan offerings on spending on 24 low-value services received in the outpatient setting. We find that firm offer of a high-deductible plan leads to a 13.7% ($5.23) reduction in average enrollee spending on low-value outpatient services and a 5.2% ($105.77) reduction in overall outpatient spending. We also find reductions in spending on measures of low-value imaging and laboratory services. We find some evidence that offering high-deductible plans disproportionately reduces low-value spending relative to overall spending, indicating that deductibles may be a way to incentivize value-based decision making.

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