Who are these made for anyway?

Health Affairs has just released an excellent new study, which challenges the notion that high-deductible health plans with their low premiums are offering the otherwise a good alternative to going uninsured. Based on this research, and an updated report from the Government Accountability Office tells us who does benefit from these plans.

The Health Affairs study just confirms what advocates have been saying — and debunks what insurance companies argue: high deductible plans are not a sound choice for families who are uninsured. One medical emergency would leave these families vulnerable to tens of thousands in medical debt, if not bankruptcy.

UPDATE: Check out Health Access’ earlier report on “Thin Protections,” also showing how high deductible plans provide little comfort for middle-income families that are often asset-poor.

Among the Health Affairs report’s findings:

  • Only 21% of households with one uninsured person could cover a $1,000, along with their other obligations.
  • No more than 9 percent of households with one uninsured person could meet the out-of-pocket maximum of $5,000.

Also interesting:

$300: Uninsured families earning less than 300% of poverty ($63,600 for a family of four) had an average of $300 (!) in liquid financial assets. Incidentally, this is pretty much all they have too.

Higher income assets thin: Even for those families, who were uninsured, earning more than $63,600 — assets were pretty scant. Gross financial assets — which include stocks and mutual funds — totalled $3,600 for these families. Families WITH insurance had more than four times that amount: $16,420.

So who are these high deductible plans for anyway? Well, a new GAO report tells us that:

The Government Accountability Office just updated their 2006 report on Health Savings Accounts, which can only be opened with a qualifying high-deductible health plan.

First — only about half of the 4.5 million HSA-eligible plan enrollees opened an HSA.

And — those who opened them have more money. The average income for the enrollees of these plans was $57,000. For those who opened an account, though, the average income was $139,000 — more than twice as much.

I’m hoping some insurer folks or defenders of high-deductible plans can explain, again, why they still believe in light of this research that these plans are a good idea for the uninsured.

email me: hquach@health-access.org

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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