Long-term impact of high-deductible health plans uncertain

By Annette M. Boyle

While high-deductible health plans appear to reduce overall medical expenses by encouraging more selective healthcare use by consumers in the short term, in the long run they may actually increase costs, according toHealth Affairs Blog post.

Research shows that healthcare costs decline when employers offer high-deductible plans. But the question is whether employees, and other consumers facing high out-of-pocket costs, forgo only unnecessary medical services or whether they skip preventive services and treatment for chronic conditions, which could drive up costs in the long term.

Previous research has found that nearly 30 percent of adults with deductibles of at least $1,500 per person went without care because of cost concerns in 2014, while less than 20 percent of those with lower deductibles skipped care because of the expense. What's more, nearly a quarter of all non-elderly Americans with private health coverage lack the financial means to pay their deductibles.

Forgoing necessary care occurs most often among lower-income tiers, where healthcare expenses compete with other household priorities, notes the Health Affairs post. Patients with chronic conditions are also at risk.

However, some insurers have addressed such concerns by developing price transparency tools to help consumers better understand their financial responsibility for each type of medical service. Indeed, given that high-deductible plans are likely here to stay, "providers, payers, and researchers must do their parts to curb the unintended consequences of a possibly shortsighted phenomenon," the post concludes.

For more:
- here's the post

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