Though health-care costs are on the rise, several consumer-directed health plans available today can help small-business owners and their employees take more control of their health-care dollars.

Consumer-directed plans include health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements and flexible spending accounts, and are designed to save employees money by encouraging them to be more involved in the decision-making process about their medical care.

* Health savings accounts
A health savings account is a tax-free savings plan that allows an employee to pay for current health-care costs while saving for future medical expenses. Participants are not penalized for using their HSA funds for qualified medical expenses, and may carry over any unused funds to the next year. Both employers and employees may contribute to an HSA.

* Health reimbursement arrangements
HRAs are employer-funded accounts that reimburse employees for qualified medical expenses. After employees have paid for such expenses out-of-pocket, they submit a claim and are reimbursed from money their employer designates for that purpose.

* Flexible spending accounts
Flexible spending accounts are designed to let employees save pre-tax dollars to use later for co-pays, deductibles and other medical expenses not covered under their main health-insurance plan.

Photo by tdenham .