Nearly a quarter of all non-elderly Americans with private health insurance coverage lack the financial means to pay their deductibles, according to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
KFF based its results from the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances--the most recent survey available--which looked at 6,015 households.
For a mid-range deductible of $1,200 and $2,400 for a family, 76 percent of households have enough liquid assets to cover their deductible, KFF found. For a higher deductible--$2,500 and $5,000, respectively, the number of households drops to 65 percent.
The Affordable Care Act provides reduced cost sharing for certain individuals who fall below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, but there is no assistance with cost sharing for individuals with higher incomes. Among those households, 66 percent have enough liquid assets to cover a mid-range deductible, while only 51 percent have enough to cover a high deductible.
"Households with incomes between 250 percent and 400 percent of poverty would be unable to meet even the lower out-of-pocket limits with their current resources, and meaningful shares of households with incomes over 400 percent of poverty would have problems as well," KFF said.
High deductibles are part of a growing cost-sharing trend in health insurance. This has played a role in the moderation seen in the rate of increase in health spending, KFF CEO Drew Altman wrote in the Wall Street Journal. But the debate at hand, he mentioned, is whether high deductibles actually help or harm people's health.
The average deductible for employer-sponsured insurance plans has increased from $1,240 in 2002 to $2,491 in 2013, according to Vox. Employers' shares of healthcare costs has risen as well but has remained flat since 2011, the article noted.
In December, a Gallup poll found that one in three Americans have delayed treatment for themselves or a family member because they cannot afford it, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. The main reason was increased use of high-deductible health plans, which trade lower premiums for higher out-of-pocket costs.
Certain factors can lessen the impact of high deductibles. "Not everybody needs healthcare in a given year, or they use very little, so they don't have to pay down their deductibles every year," Altman wrote. "About one in five workers is in a high-deductible plan that can be paired with tax-preferred savings accounts that can build up when he or she doesn't use care."