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Plan to give state workers health savings accounts stalls, sponsor will bring it back

Plan to give state workers health savings accounts stalls, sponsor will bring it back

Mitch Coffman
January 31, 2012
January 31, 2012

Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, believes that by giving state workers more responsibility in their health service purchasing decisions it will bring down insurance costs for the state, but the legislation he created to do that needs a little more work.

Thayn attempted to introduce a bill in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee Tuesday to allow the Idaho Department of Administration to offer state workers access to health savings accounts, or HSAs, but panel members were concerned the language wasn’t clear enough.

Rep. Jeff Nessett, R-Lewiston, supports Thayn’s idea, but wants his bill cleaned up. “I think the idea is good,” Nessett said.

Thayn plans to adjust the bill’s language and bring it back to the committee, though he didn’t give a timeline for that to happen.

HSAs are a blended insurance model, combining high-deductible catastrophic health policies with a cash account through which workers pay ordinary medical expenses. The state covers the high-deductible insurance policy and puts a lump sum of cash each year into an employee’s account to cover appointments and small procedures.

The idea has worked in at least one state. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted HSAs for his state workers in 2005 and the savings, he says, have been dramatic. In an 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 new workers are signing up for HSAs over more traditional health plans.

HSA critics argue that the plan forces workers to delay some treatments in order to save money, but others, like Daniels, believe the idea simply encourages smarter consumption of health services by price comparison shopping.

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