On his second attempt, Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, introduced a bill to allow the state to give its employees health savings accounts, a move he believes will save Idaho money in medical care expenses.
The bill was introduced in the House Education Committee, but will likely be heard in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, where the measure was originally rejected due to language concerns.
Thayn’s plan would give state workers health savings accounts and combine them with high-deductible insurance coverage. The state would put cash into the workers’ individual accounts each month, funds to be used for everyday medical expenses. Any costly procedures would be covered by the high-deductible insurance plan.
Thayn believes that the accounts encourage workers to actively participate in health decisions and shop more wisely than with other plans. “Health savings accounts are becoming a popular tool to help people deal with their medical costs,” said Thayn.
Rep. Bob Nonini,R-Post Falls, an insurance agent himself, said the science behind the plan is sound. “High-deductible accounts … show a tendency to drive down utilization,” said Nonini. “Utilization in health care is what drives prices up occasionally. I think this is really nice, Rep. Thayn.”
Nonini said he isn’t opposed to people using health insurance, but rather wants to cut down on over-utilization and unnecessary procedures, tests and doctor visits. “We cannot continue to go down this road,” Nonini said.
If the measure ends up in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, it could receive a congenial welcome this time. The committee chair, Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, also sits on the House Education Committee and spoke in favor of Thayn’s measure. She said she has watched health savings accounts discussed nationally and would like to see how they could be applied and utilized inIdaho.
At least one other state has had success with health savings accounts. 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.
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.