High-deductible plans leave Californians feeling physically, fiscally ill

Roughly three million commercially insured California residents continue to put their physical and financial health in jeopardy by choosing high-deductible health coverage, oftentimes due to their inability to afford more stable, high-premium insurance, a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Research finds. The news comes as the state deploys its new "California Health Benefits Exchange," to help provide both affordable coverage and subsidies for those struggling financially. 

High-deductible plans, by definition, are those with out-of-pocket deductibles of $1,000 or more for individuals and $2,000 or more for families. Those deductibles can exceed $5,000, according to the report's authors citing statistics from the California Health Interview Survey. The aforementioned exchange will cap out-of-pocket deductibles at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

"Many Californians can't afford higher-premium plans, especially in the current economic climate," said Dylan Roby, a UCLA Center researcher and the study's lead author, in a press statement. "[T]he alternative--high-deductible plans--may cost less initially, but can cost thousands of dollars when you need healthcare." 

The report's authors call for "expanded educational efforts" for low-income individuals with regard to choosing insurance, citing that most of those who chose high-deductible plans did not have any sort of health savings account to help soften the blow of rising health costs. More specifically, 69 percent of commercially insured PPO members on high-deductible plans said they lacked an HSA. Seventy-seven percent of commercially insured HMO members also reported opting to go without an HSA. 

Consumers need information to choose the right coverage so they receive the care when needed, not just when they can afford it," Sandra Perez, director of the California Office of the Patient Advocate, said in the release. "Thus, it is essential that a consumer have access to reliable information and helpful decision-making tools to make an informed choice when selecting a health insurance plan." 

To learn more:
- here's the full report
- read this press release from UCLA
- check out this Los Angeles Times article