Original post benefitspro.com

“Transparency” and “choice” are keywords associated with health plan consumers these days. But there’s no guarantee those key words will lead to the keyword phrase “lower health plan costs.”

One survey of the employees of two large employers reports that, given transparency and choice, plan members did not reduce their costs, and even increased them a bit.

As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a Harvard-led study of plan member choices showed that when employees spent more time reviewing plan options, they did not necessarily choose a cheaper plan. The study compared two groups of employees — one with a plan that included a price transparency/comparison tool, and another that did not.

The end result: The group with the transparency tool at its disposal spent slightly more (about  $59 per member) on a plan in 2012 than in 2011. The control group with no tool spent about $18 more.

However, the study included a big caveat: “Only a small percentage of eligible employees” used the tool.

Such studies can offer some value to the overall discussion of reducing health costs. However, this study’s small focus (employees of two companies), when it took place (before comparison tools had truly entered the health plan lexicon), and the relatively few folks who used it, probably suggests that perhaps it could be used as the starting point for a broader study based upon more recent data.