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Get the Lowdown on Consumer-Directed Health Plans Inflated health insurance prices are putting the squeeze on your budget, but are consumer-directed plans the way to go?

By Mark Henricks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Six years ago, Jim Noon paid 100 percent of the $100 monthly health insurance premium for each of his 11 employees and their families. After premiums rose sharply, the owner of Centennial Container Inc.in Denver began requiring employees to pay for spouses and children. Costs kept climbing. Noon, 50, began increasing the deductible, eventually to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families. He still paid $400 per month for each employee. Says Noon, whose $2 million company sells cardboard boxes and shipping supplies, "We had a poor insurance plan, but we were putting more and more money into it."

Last year, Noon tried a health savings account, one of the consumer-directed health plans that are the industry's latest cost-control effort. The plan premium pays for insurance and also puts money into a savings account where it draws interest and is available for withdrawal for future medical expenses. Only high-deductible plans are eligible for HSAs, but HSAs have significantly lower premiums than comparable insurance plans.

Other consumer-directed plans featuring medical flexible spending accounts, or FSAs, have had limited acceptance because of a use-it-or-lose-it provision: FSA funds not spent the year they are set aside are forfeited. HSA funds roll over from year to year and build up.

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