There are now 31 million people who have health coverage with out-of-pocket costs or deductibles so high that they are considered "underinsured," making them generally unable to take advantage of their health benefits, according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund.
Examining about 3,000 adults ages 19 to 64, the Commonwealth Fund found 23 percent to be underinsured. Most were covered by an employer-sponsored plan or a privately purchased plan. Applied to the entire population, that percentage amounts to 31 million adults.
Sara Collins, lead author and vice president for healthcare coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund, told the New York Times that these high-deductible health plans aren't a good option for many consumers. "These are probably not the best designs for people, particularly people who have chronic conditions and low incomes, to encourage them to get the care they need."
Among the underinsured population, 51 percent either had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt over time, and 38 percent either had trouble paying or couldn't pay their medical bills.
The problem for insurers is that underinsured people tend to refuse or delay treatment, which can lead to more expensive health problems in the future.
The study authors think that insurers' increased use of high-deductible health plans could lead to a larger underinsured population in the future. "If health insurance costs continue to be shifted to the consumer, the insecurity will deepen," Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said in a statement.
Collins added in the statement that insurers might want to consider how they design benefits so that healthcare can remain affordable for consumers.