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Original Research

High-Deductible Health Plans Paired With Health Savings Accounts Increased Medication Cost Burden Among Individuals With Bipolar Disorder

Christine Y. Lu, PhD, MSca,*; Fang Zhang, PhDa; Jamie Wallace, MPHa; Robert F. LeCates, MAa; Alisa B. Busch, MD, MSb,c; Jeanne Madden, PhDa,d; Matthew Callahan, MSa; Phyllis Foxworth, BSe; Stephen B. Soumerai, ScDa; Dennis Ross-Degnan, ScDa; and J. Frank Wharam, MB, BCh, BAO, MPHa,f,g

Published: March 9, 2022


Objective: High-deductible health plans paired with health savings accounts (HSA-HDHPs) require substantial out-of-pocket spending for most services, including medications. We examined effects of HSA-HDHPs on medication out-of-pocket spending and use among people with bipolar disorder.

Methods: This quasi-experimental study used claims data for January 2003 through December 2014. We studied a national sample of 348 members with bipolar disorder (defined based on International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision), aged 12 to 64 years, who were continuously enrolled for 1 year in a low-deductible plan (≤ $500) then 1 year in an HSA-HDHP (≥ $1,000) after an employer-mandated switch. HSA-HDHP members were matched to 4,087 contemporaneous controls who remained in low-deductible plans. Outcome measures included out-of-pocket spending and use of bipolar disorder medications, non-bipolar psychotropics, and all other medications.

Results: Mean pre-to-post out-of-pocket spending per person for bipolar disorder medications increased by 149.7% among HSA-HDHP versus control members (95% confidence interval [CI], 109.9% to 189.5%). Specifically, out-of-pocket spending increased for antipsychotics (220.9% [95% CI, 150.0% to 291.8%]) and anticonvulsants (109.6% [95% CI, 67.3% to 152.0%]). Both higher-income and lower-income HSA-HDHP members experienced increases in out-of-pocket spending for bipolar disorder medications (135.2% [95% CI, 86.4% to 184.0%] and 164.5% [95% CI, 100.9% to 228.1%], respectively). We did not detect statistically significant changes in use of bipolar disorder medications, non-bipolar psychotropics, or all other medications in this study population of HSA-HDHP members.

Conclusions: HSA-HDHP members with bipolar disorder experienced substantial increases in out-of-pocket burdens for medications essential for their functioning and well-being. Although HSA-HDHPs were not associated with detectable reductions in medication use, high out-of-pocket costs could cause financial strain for lower-income enrollees.

Volume: 83

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