Commonwealth Medicine research team to study impact of high deductible health plans

By Tom Lyons

UMass Medical School

July 11, 2013
  Wen-Chieh Lin, PhD, is lead investigator on the CHIA award

A research team from the Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR), part of UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, will explore how the increased adoption of high deductible health plans affects access to and quality of care for Massachusetts residents.


The CHPR study will be made possible by $214,000 in funding from the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), an independent agency that monitors and analyzes health reform in the state. The award was part of several studies recently funded by CHIA to research the factors contributing to lack of insurance and under-insurance in Massachusetts.

Led by Wen-Chieh Lin, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, with co-investigators Robin Clark, PhD, associate professor of family medicine & community health, and Deborah Gurewich, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, the CHPR team will research the trends in high deductible health plans from two vantage points. The team will look at the health insurance plan perspective, interviewing payer leadership to better understand their decisions about whether or not to offer such plan options to their subscribers. It will also study the consumer perspective, using CHIA’s All Payers Claims Database to compare characteristics and outcomes between Massachusetts residents who enrolled in high deductible health plans and those who did not.

“Across the country, high deductible health plans are being subscribed to at an increasing rate,” Dr. Lin said. “While Massachusetts’ current high deductible health plan enrollment rate is relatively low, significant growth is expected. We want to proactively examine what impact that growth will have on our state, and this new partnership with CHIA will allow us to do so.”

Because of the state’s groundbreaking work on health care reform, 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance—the highest rate of insured residents in the nation. But even with that impressively high number, thousands of residents remain uninsured and many more may be underinsured, meaning they have coverage that puts them at risk of high out-of-pocket costs for the care they receive.

The study is expected to take a year to complete, and the findings will be disseminated through research conferences and peer-reviewed journals.

The other studies funded by CHIA include a study conducted by JSI Research & Training Institute Inc., to explore the disproportionately high Hispanic population among the uninsured in Massachusetts; and a study by Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance, examining the impact of cost-sharing on health insurance decisions made by consumers.