High deductibles may push patients to put off care

The rising out-of-pocket costs for health insurance force millions of middle-class Americans to forego checkups and other needed medical care, according to USA Today.

The newspaper reported that even an employer-sponsored health plan "now often requires workers to pay so much out-of-pocket that many feel they must skip doctor visits, put off medical procedures, avoid filling prescriptions and ration pills--much as the uninsured have done." Deductibles range from about $1,100 a year to more than $1,300 a year, depending on the region of the country, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. And as many as one in four Americans skip some kind of healthcare due to their cost that they have to bear.

Data recently released by the Commonwealth Fund concluded that premium and out-of-pocket cost growth far outstrips the rise in workers' wages, and that few households have the savings to meet their expenses.

"Health expenses tend to come up unexpectedly, or if you have a chronic condition, they come up relentlessly," Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told USA Today. "People put off care or they split their pills. They do without."

Those with insurance told the newspaper that they have foregone blood pressure medications that put them at risk of suffering a stroke, and orthopedic surgery even though their range of motion has been limited by pain or other issues.

"It's a case of companies trying to offer workers health insurance and still generate profit," Eric Wright, a professor of sociology and public health at Georgia State University, told USA Today. "But whenever costs go up for the consumers across the board … it promotes a delay in care."

But insurers have countered that high-deductible health plans created a greater sense of ownership for policyholders and their changed behaviors do not include foregoing crucial care.

The impact on hospitals and how they conduct business is not yet fully known. Meanwhile, USA Today reported that those enrolled in Medicaid as a result of an expansion of eligibility under the Affordable Care Act are beginning to visit doctors again.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today article
- check out the Commonwealth Fund data
- here's the Kaiser Family Foundation data

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