Are high deductibles truly a barrier to necessary medical care?

One of the goals of opening the government exchanges was to enable more Americans to get health insurance to help cover the costs of needed medical treatments. While many Americans have gained insurance, there has been no downturn in the percentage who say they have had to put off needed medical treatment because of cost. This may reflect high deductibles or copays that are part of the newly insured’s plans, although separate research has shown that most of the newly insured in 2014 are satisfied with their health coverage. (Emphasis added)

Variation in the pricing for medical treatments, not to mention differences in how much insurance plans cover, could be confusing Americans or making them fear a needed treatment is too expensive. And while the costs of medical procedures aren’t rising as rapidly as they once were, it is still too early to tell if that is an effect of the Affordable Care Act and how prices may change in the future

via Cost Still a Barrier Between Americans and Medical Care.


This excerpt is from a Gallup poll released last week. Being that this is a public opinion poll, a more nuanced view of the results is called for.

First, it is important to distinguish between individual health plans sold on state health benefit exchanges and employer-sponsored plans. Many of the latter category are increasingly coming with high deductibles. The distinction is important because employer-sponsored plans do not come with premium and out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for low and moderate income households like those sold in the exchange marketplace.

Second, according to the poll, 22 percent of Americans say they have put off medical treatment for a “very” or “somewhat serious” condition in 2014, the percentage having increased slightly since 2013. This is based on a subjective but undefined “serious condition,” so it’s not clear as to the nature of the underlying “serious” condition. If a serious condition was defined in terms of having a serious adverse affect on daily life functioning, it’s unlikely care for the condition would be deferred due to out of pocket costs so this is probably a highly subjective measure.

High deductible plans are being cited by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as a contributing factor to slowing spending on health care in 2013. (Click here for news release). This is based on the conventional wisdom that health care is like other consumer goods and services is subject to the economic principle of price elasticity: demand falls as cost increases and vice versa. But is it really? Do people reason, “Oh, I’ve got a low deductible plan. I think I’ll schedule a few medical appointments?” Highly doubtful since going to the doctor isn’t as an attractive form of spending as, say, going shopping at a retailer to take advantage of a sale providing an inducement to shop. 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

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Frederick Pilot

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