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Many find that high deductibles make their ACA plans all but useless

Many Say High Deductibles Make Their Health Law Insurance All but Useless

By Robert Pear
The New York Times, November 14, 2015

Obama administration officials, urging people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, have trumpeted the low premiums available on the law’s new marketplaces.

But for many consumers, the sticker shock is coming not on the front end, when they purchase the plans, but on the back end when they get sick: sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.

In many states, more than half the plans offered for sale through HealthCare.gov, the federal online marketplace, have a deductible of $3,000 or more, a New York Times review has found. Those deductibles are causing concern among Democrats — and some Republican detractors of the health law, who once pushed high-deductible health plans in the belief that consumers would be more cost-conscious if they had more of a financial stake or skin in the game.

In Miami, the median deductible, according to HealthCare.gov, is $5,000. (Half of the plans are above the median, and half below it.) In Jackson, Miss., the comparable figure is $5,500. In Chicago, the median deductible is $3,400. In Phoenix, it is $4,000; in Houston and Des Moines, $3,000.

In employer-sponsored health plans, deductibles have also been rising as companies shift costs to workers. Still, the average annual deductible in employer plans, $1,320 for individual coverage according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, is considerably less than the deductibles in many marketplace plans.

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University who supports the health law, said the rising deductibles were part of a trend that she described as the “degradation of health insurance.”

Insurers, she said, “designed plans with a hefty use of deductibles and cost-sharing in order to hold down premiums” for low- and moderate-income consumers shopping in the public marketplaces.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/us/politics/many-say-high-deductibles-make-their-health-law-insurance-all-but-useless.html

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Comment:

By Don McCanne, M.D.

The deductibles are out of control. The anecdotes in the full article (link above) demonstrate that many people find that their insurance is “all but useless” simply because they cannot afford to pay the deductibles. Anecdotes do not constitute a scientifically valid study, but they certainly do tell us what is happening to individuals out in the real world.

Insurers needed to keep premiums affordable in order to maintain a viable market of private plans. They do that by shifting costs to patients through ever higher deductibles. This was inevitable through the reform model selected for the misnamed Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act. Because of the large deductibles, actual health care is not affordable for individuals with modest incomes and thus patients do not have the protection that they need.

The three trillion dollars that we are already spending on health care is enough to provide all essential health care services for everyone. With a properly designed financing system there is no need to erect financial barriers to care since cost containment can be achieved through patient-friendly policies such as those of a single payer national health program.

Without proper reform, “degradation of health insurance” will progress. People will face greater financial hardship because of medical bills. People will suffer more because of forgone health care. People will die.

This isn’t right. We need an improved Medicare that includes everyone.