HSA enrollment reaches 8 million

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Eight million Americans are enrolled in health savings account insurance plans, an increase of more than 31 percent compared to 2008.

“HSA plans provide coverage to a number of consumers of all ages and incomes across the country, and they represent an important choice for employers and individuals when looking at the portfolio of coverage options available,” said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which commissioned the study.

Key findings include:

There was an increase of about1.9 million Americans enrolled in an HSA plan since January 2008. Previous reports found that 6.1 million were enrolled during 2008, 4.5 million during 2007 and 1 million during 2005.

About 30 percent of people covered in the HSA plans were in the small group market, 47 percent were in the large-group market and the remaining 23 percent were in the individual market.

A majority of enrollees are covered by the preferred provider organization products and health maintenance organization products. In the individual market, almost 92 percent were in PPO products.

States with the highest levels of enrollment are California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Ohio and Minnesota.

Households with a wide range of incomes hold accounts, with almost half of account holders living in neighborhoods with median incomes of less than $50,000.

Average total deposits for all HSA accounts were $1,634 and average total withdrawals were $1,063.

Improved outcomes

People suffering from chronic low-back pain who received acupuncture or simulated acupuncture treatments fare better than those receiving only conventional care, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The trial was paid for by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

“Because of the lack of highly effective medical treatments for chronic low-back pain, we were pleased to find that acupuncture-like treatments were helpful for persons suffering from chronic back pain,” said Daniel Cherkin of the Group Health Center for Health Studies. “The finding that real acupuncture produced no greater benefit than stimulated acupuncture raises important questions about acupuncture’s mechanisms of action.”

The trial enrolled 638 people with chronic low-back pain who had never had acupuncture and who had rated their pain as at least a three on a zero to 10 scale. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: individualized acupuncture, standardized acupuncture, simulated acupuncture or standard medical care.

Researchers found that at eight weeks, people in the first three trials all improved their dysfunction scores significantly more than those receiving standard medical care. These benefits persisted for a year, although diminished over time. But there was no significant difference between groups receiving needle and simulated forms of acupuncture.

“The findings of this research show that acupuncture-like treatments can elicit positive responses,” said Josephine Briggs, director of NCCAM. “This adds to the growing body of evidence that there is something meaningful taking place during acupuncture treatments outside of actual needling. Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses.”

Less swine flu concern

Not concerned about swine flu? Neither is your doctor.

A national study of 1,477 physicians revealed that during the past month, doctors have become less concerned about the impact that the H1N1 swine flu will have on themselves and their families.

Results early in the epidemic revealed that 21 percent of doctors were either concerned or extremely concerned about the flu. The latest study showed that only 10 percent now fall into that category.

The studies were conducted by HCD Research and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion to obtain doctors’ perceptions about the virus.

The studies also revealed that the U.S. government is better prepared to handle the flu than first thought. Most doctors said they believe the government is prepared or completely prepared to deal with an epidemic.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.