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USC pharmacy professor to examine effects of consumer-directed health plans

Neeraj Sood serves as director of international programs at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. (Photo/Tom Queally)

Neeraj Sood, associate professor at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of international programs at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, has been awarded a $927,059 grant from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund to support his research on consumer-directed health plans.

Sood will estimate the effects of consumer-directed health plans on the use of primary and secondary preventive services, as well as the impact these plans have on consumer price-shopping for preventive services.

“As far as we know, this project would be the first to comprehensively estimate the long-term effects of consumer-directed health plans on use of preventive services,” Sood said. “We’ll look at whether these lead to greater ‘price-shopping’ for preventive services and whether they prevent patients from getting the care they need.”

Typically, consumer-directed health plans cost less but come with higher deductibles for some services and are often paired with health savings accounts. These plans have been on the rise over the past decade and today account for some 13 percent of all employer-sponsored health plans.

Incentives are shifted in these plans, with patients substantially more motivated to approach them as shoppers, not just patients. While these plans offer complete coverage for some primary preventive services, such as cancer screenings and cholesterol testing, they require the patient to fully cover secondary preventive measures, such as medications for diabetes, until the deductible — which is usually high — is met.

Findings from the research will provide data to policymakers and health insurers to help plan designs that keep costs down while optimizing health outcomes.

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