Sky-High Deductibles Broke the U.S. Health Insurance System

Bloomberg reports that many health plans “put patients on the hook for many thousands of dollars” and are widespread and growing

“Why did we design a health plan that has the ability to deliver a $1,000 surprise to employees?” Shawn Leavitt, a senior human resources executive at Comcast Corp., said at a conference in May. “That’s kind of stupid.” A handful of companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and CVS Health Corp., have recently announced plans to reduce deductibles or cover more care before workers are exposed to the cost.

Yet it’s still the reality for a growing share of Americans. Today, 39 percent of large employers offer only high-deductible plans, up from 7 percent in 2009, according to a survey by the National Business Group on Health. Half of all workers now have health insurance with a deductible of at least $1,000 for an individual, up from 22 percent in 2009, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 41 percent say they can’t pay a $400 emergency expense without borrowing or selling something, according to the Federal Reserve.

The bottom line: People simply can’t afford to get sick.

Since the early 2000s, employers have mostly embraced high-deductible health plans. The thinking has been that requiring workers to shoulder more of the cost of care will also encourage them to cut back on unnecessary spending. But it didn’t work out that way. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, many families were hard-pressed to meet their soaring health-insurance deductibles. At the same time, studies show that many put off routine care or skipped medication to save money. That can mean illnesses that might have been caught early can go undiagnosed, becoming potentially life-threatening and enormously costly for the medical system.

How the U.S. insurance system came to stick its customers with increasingly onerous medical bills is a 15-year-long story of miscalculations and missed opportunities.

Read the whole piece here.

 

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