High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) have become the predominant commercial health insurance arrangement in the US. HDHPs require substantial out-of-pocket (OOP) costs for most services but often exempt medications from high cost sharing. We examined effects of HDHPs on OOP costs and utilization of adjuvant hormonal therapy (AHT), which are fundamental care for patients with breast cancer.
This controlled quasi-experimental study used claims data (2003-2012) from a large national health insurer. We included 986 women with incident early-stage breast cancer, age 25-64 years, insured by employers that mandated a transition from low-deductible (≤ $500/year) to high-deductible (≥ $1000/year) coverage, and 3479 propensity score-matched controls whose employers offered only low-deductible plans. We examined AHT utilization and OOP costs per person-year before and after the HDHP switch.
At baseline, the OOP costs for AHT were $40.41 and $36.55 per person-year among the HDHP and control groups. After the HDHP switch, the OOP costs for AHT were $91.76 and $72.98 per person-year among the HDHP and control groups, respectively. AHT OOP costs increased among HDHP members relative to controls but the change was not significant (relative change 13.72% [95% CI - 9.25, 36.70%]). AHT use among HDHP members did not change compared to controls (relative change of 2.73% [95% CI - 14.01, 19.48%]); the change in aromatase inhibitor use was - 11.94% (95% CI - 32.76, 8.88%) and the change in tamoxifen use was 20.65% (95% CI - 8.01, 49.32%).
We did not detect significant changes in AHT use after the HDHP switch. Findings might be related to modest increases in overall AHT OOP costs, the availability of low-cost generic tamoxifen, and patient awareness that AHT can prolong life and health. Minimizing OOP cost increases for essential medications might represent a feasible approach for maintaining medication adherence among HDHP members with incident breast cancer.