High Deductibles Push Millions Of Americans To Make 'Difficult Sacrifices' For Health Care

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Jessica Mejia (left) watches as her sick daughter Joselyn, age 4, is checked at a low-cost clinic run by the Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics on July 28, 2009 in Aurora, Colo. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Jessica Mejia (left) watches as her sick daughter Joselyn, age 4, is checked at a low-cost clinic run by the Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics on July 28, 2009 in Aurora, Colo. (John Moore/Getty Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Twenty years ago, high-deductible health insurance plans were billed as a way to lower costly health insurance premiums.

Today, annual deductibles in job-based health plans have quadrupled, and now average more than $1,300.

Nearly half of American workers enrolled in these plans say they don’t have enough savings to cover the cost of the deductible. It’s one symptom of the sad state of American health care, where people are going bankrupt, or have to move in with family, or cut back on food — even as they have insurance.


Noam Levey, writes about national health care policy out of Washington, D.C., for the Los Angeles Times. (@NoamLevey)

Dr. Yousuf Zafar, associate professor of medicine and public policy at the Duke Cancer Institute (@DukeCancer), where he researches the cost of cancer care. Member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Health Disparities and Clinical Practice Guideline Committees. (@yzafar)

From The Reading List

Los Angeles Times: "Soaring insurance deductibles and high drug prices hit sick Americans with a ‘double whammy’" -- "Wendy Matney hesitated to tell her family not to call 911.

"'It seemed almost selfish to say, "Please don’t call because we can’t afford this,"' said the 39-year-old home health aide, who has a form of epilepsy that causes frequent, sometimes violent, seizures.

"Matney has been to the hospital enough, though, to know a trip means thousands of dollars in bills under the family’s high-deductible health plan. And she and her husband — struggling with more than $20,000 in medical debt — can afford no more.

"Hit with a hospital lawsuit over unpaid bills, the couple are declaring bankruptcy, effectively giving up hope of moving out of their trailer and buying a house.

"'I’m losing everything because of this,' Matney said.

"The steep rise in health insurance deductibles over the last decade has saddled insured, middle- and working-class Americans with medical bills they can’t afford, a Los Angeles Times examination of job-based insurance shows."

Find the other stories from the Los Angeles Times' series on health care and deductibles here.

The Colorado Sun: "How Summit County residents, fed up with high health care prices, banded together and negotiated a better deal" — "From her office in one of the most picturesque communities in America, Tamara Drangstveit heard every day about the horrors of living there.

"Monthly health insurance premiums in Summit County were higher than mortgage payments. Residents were toughing out illnesses and injuries at home rather than going to the doctor. Families were packing up and moving to find more affordable coverage.

"But now, she and other Summit County leaders have led a first-of-its-kind effort in Colorado that is poised to lower health insurance prices for many in the county — and could become a model for communities across the state to gain leverage over a health care system that often feels suffocating.

'In the stodgy world of health policy, this is about as cinematic as it gets: A group of small-town locals, fed up with high prices, fighting together for a better deal from two powerful industries. And, despite those challenges, they appear to have pulled it off. When many people in Summit County go shopping for health coverage next year, Drangstveit said they could see premium prices 20% lower — a savings of hundreds of dollars a month for families."

The Atlantic: "Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick" — "In April 2016, Venus Lockett was about to give a speech at an event she’d volunteered for near her home in Atlanta. She was already stressed. The previous night, she had stayed up late making her presentation, and then deleted it by mistake. As she stepped up to the podium to give her remarks, she noticed that her words were slurring. She tried to speak into the mic, but the words that came out didn’t make sense.

"A friend walked up and grabbed Lockett by the arm. A few people, noticing that something wasn’t right, walked Lockett to another room and called an ambulance. Lockett, who was 57 at the time and uninsured, didn’t know whether she could or should refuse the ambulance ride or decide which hospital it would take her to.

"Paramedics sped her a few miles to Emory University Hospital Midtown, where she was held overnight. It turned out that she had suffered a transient ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke. The hospital performed tests and sent her home, where she recovered fully.

"In May, the hospital bill arrived. Lockett had been charged $26,203.62 total for 'observation,' which the bill instructed her to pay within 20 days. Lockett went into a tailspin. 'Dang, I knew I shouldn’t have gone to the hospital,' she remembers thinking. 'But at the same time, that was really scary to me, not being able to talk.' "

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

This program aired on June 6, 2019.



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