Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring.
But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best.
“To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. “I don’t have that money.”
About 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in private coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than 80 percent qualified for federal subsidies to help with the cost of their monthly premiums. But many are still on the hook for deductibles that can top $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for families — the trade-off, insurers say, for keeping premiums for the marketplace plans relatively low. The result is that some people — no firm data exists on how many — say they hesitate to use their new insurance because of the high out-of-pocket costs.
Insurers must cover certain preventive services, like immunizations, cholesterol checks and screening for breast and colon cancer, at no cost to the consumer if the provider is in their network. But for other services and items, like prescription drugs, marketplace customers often have to meet their deductible before insurance starts to help.
While high-deductible plans cover most of the costs of severe illnesses and lengthy hospital stays, protecting against catastrophic debt, those plans may compel people to forgo routine care that could prevent bigger, longer-term health issues, according to experts and research.
“They will cause some people to not get care they should get,” Katherine Hempstead, who directs research on health insurance coverage at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said of high-deductible marketplace plans. “Unfortunately, the people who are attracted to the lower premiums tend to be the ones who are going to have the most trouble coming up with all the cost-sharing if in fact they want to use their health insurance.”
This is a real problem. Many members of the middle class, and certainly lower class are living pay check to pay check and adding the cost of coverage to their monthly bills is stressful to their financing. THEN, add the cost of meeting the deductibles and their lifestyle “breaks”.
My brother recently broke his arm and has no insurance. He may qualify for Medicaid or he may not. If he doesn’t, even if he received a subsidy, most likely he could not consistently pay his premiums and certainly would have significant issues meeting a deductible. I don’t know the solution. Most of my Boulder friends would say “Single Payer.” Me, I’m for price discovery and getting insurance out of day to day medical expenses. Also, an inexpensive accident plan would have solved my brother’s problem, assuming he could consistently pay that premium.
For example, Ms. Wanderlich needs a brain scan. How much would it cost if she could shop around? I have no idea. Heck, it may cost $300 or it may cost $3000. An internet search shows the cost of a CT brain scan lies between $825 and $4800. Let’s say that everyone who really needed a brain scan actually got one. If there was price discovery, perhaps the cost would be lower due to higher utilization of the equipment.
Also, the public needs to shop around for these services. Even if they have insurance, it should become common place to shop around.
Another family experience. Many years ago my wife needed an MRI. We were within $500 – $800 dollars of meeting our deductible, then there was 100% coverage. We found a cost of $850 or so, but the facility was an hours drive away. In Boulder, we found a price of $1200 and the facility was 15 minutes away. Since our exposure was $800 either way, we selected the more expensive facility. If circumstances had been different, that is the money was coming out of our pocket, we would have driven an hour.
There are no easy answers, but Government bureaucracy and incompetence, which is very much on display these days, are not part of the solution.
A big h/t to Michael Smith at the Facebook page, Fans of Best of the Web today for the title of this post.