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House paves way for health savings accounts for state workers

House paves way for health savings accounts for state workers

Dustin Hurst
March 11, 2012
Dustin Hurst
Author Image
March 11, 2012

State workers could soon be able to use health savings accounts, paired with high deductible insurance policies, to cover their medical expenses.

The Idaho House voted 54-13 to allow the Department of Administration to offer the combo plans to employees. Only Democrats opposed the measure.

The legislation doesn’t force the plans on state workers, only makes them available for use. The bill’s backer, Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, says health savings accounts have been shown to drive down health care expenses by requiring users to shop around for medical services. Thayn said on the floor that the plans are one way the state can get its ever-rising health costs “under control.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the bill would help state workers make smarter decisions about their health service purchases. Luker said traditional insurance plans have “divorced” people from making wise decisions about health care.

State workers now typically use high-cost, low-deductible insurance policies. The Thayn bill would allow the state to offer high-deductible, low-cost insurance policies for state workers and the savings from using that type of plan would be swept into the health savings account. Workers would then use the savings account like cash for medical service purchase, including checkups and doctor visits.

At least one state has tried the combo plans and experienced success. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted the accounts for his state workers in 2005 and the savings, he says, have been dramatic. In a March 1, 2010, opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Daniels wrote that the Hoosier State saved $20 million in 2010 thanks to the new plans.
Indiana gives each worker $2,700 in medical savings cash to cover expenses and then covers a health insurance policy with an $8,000 deductible.

As many as 70 percent of Indiana’s new workers are signing up for HSAs over more traditional health plans.

Critics of the idea, like House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, argue that the plans don’t actually drive down costs and may end up delaying worker health problems, thereby exacerbating them. Rusche said the plans are effective for the wealthy and healthy of the world, but that Idaho’s population and workforce tend to be more aged and sickly than other areas of the nation.

The legislation now heads to the Idaho Senate for consideration.

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