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Highlights

Consumer-directed health plans (CDHP) combine a high-deductible health plan with a tax-advantaged account, such as a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), that enrollees can use to pay for health care expenses. In an effort to restrain cost growth, several employers, including the federal government through its Office of Personnel Management (OPM), have offered HRAs for several years. For enrollees in HRAs compared with those in traditional plans such as preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, GAO assessed (1) differences in health status, and (2) changes in spending and utilization of health care services. GAO analyzed data from two large employers--one public and one private--that introduced an HRA option in 2003. GAO compared changes in health spending and utilization before and after 2003 for enrollees who switched from a PPO into an HRA (the HRA group) with those who stayed in a PPO (the PPO group). At the time GAO made its data requests to each employer, 2007 data from the public employer and 2005 data from the private employer were the most current and complete data available. GAO also reviewed published studies that included an assessment of the health status, spending, or utilization of HRA and other CDHP enrollees compared with traditional plan enrollees. Results are not generalizable beyond the enrollees, health plans, and employers GAO reviewed and also cannot be compared between the public and private employers.

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