Few employees use U’s consumer-driven health plan

by Jessica Weaver

A new consumer-driven health-care plan gives University employees more choices in physicians and hospitals, but few are using the plan, researchers said.

The University has offered employees a plan from Definity Health since 2002, but only 6 percent of University employees use it.

Definity was established in 1998 by a Carlson School of Management alumnus. Other plans offered at the University are HealthPartners, Patient Choice and Preferred One.

Definity is the only consumer-driven health-care plan available to University employees. Consumer-driven health-care plans allow consumers to control what doctors they see and what services they receive without limitations to certain clinics, hospitals or services.

Three business school faculty – Stephen Parente, Jon Christianson and Roger Feldman – are researching the impact of consumer-driven health-care plans.

Their research involves comparing trends in consumer-driven health-care plans with health maintenance organizations and preferred-provider organizations for six different employers.

Two institutions they are observing are the University and Louisiana State University.

“What’s nice about LSU is we can compare it to the ‘U,’ ” Parente said. At Louisiana State University, 17 percent of faculty use the consumer-driven health plan, compared with 6 percent at the University, he said.

So far, their research has disproved concerns that only one group of individuals would choose a consumer-driven health-care plan.

While Definity has participants of all ages at the University, most participants are middle-aged.

Researchers also found no significant difference in user satisfaction between Definity and the University’s other plans.

Parente said they received a grant of $320,000 in November 2002 to research consumer-driven health-care plans. The two-year grant is funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

With the plan, employers pay a certain amount into their employee’s health care. The employee manages the money and how it is spent throughout his term of employment.

“It lets the consumer be more active in their whole health-care process,” Parente said. “I’m participating more in my health care.”

For members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, Definity is one of the cheapest health-care options in their current contract proposal.

“For my situation, Patient Choice works the best,” said Mahin Noori, principal account specialist at the dean’s office in the Institute of Technology. Noori said she looked into Definity.

If health-care costs rise, Noori said she would definitely consider switching to Definity.