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Paying thousands before health insurance even kicks in

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NEW YORK  — Got health insurance at work? You may still have to shell out thousands of dollars before it kicks in.

That’s because more employers are offering consumer-directed health plans, which usually come with high deductibles. In 2015, 81% of large employers will offer at least one of these plans, up from 63% five years earlier.

Consumer-directed plans typically carry deductibles of $1,500 for individual coverage, more than three times higher than traditional policies, according to the National Business Group on Health.

And these plans will be the only choice for a growing number of workers. The share of larger employers offering only consumer-directed policies is jumping to 32% for 2015, up from 22% this year.

Deductibles are soaring for traditional insurance policies, too.

Deductibles for individual coverage at all firms have jumped to $1,217, on average, up 47% over the past five years, according to the 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust report. In high-deductible plans, they have hit $2,215.

Employers say they want more accountability, and higher deductibles force workers to take a larger role in their own care while shifting more of the costs to them.

Participants in these plans often have to pay more out of pocket — not only for deductibles, but for doctors’ visits, labs and procedures too.

On the plus side, they benefit from lower monthly premiums. Also, many employers contribute to savings accounts to help workers cover these costs. Annual checkups and preventative exams, such as colorectal screenings and mammograms, are free, as mandated by Obamacare.

Wells Fargo switched to only consumer-directed plans in 2012. This year, the bank’s employees can choose between two high-deductible policies — one at $2,000 and the other at $3,000.

Doing so helped Wells Fargo keep plans affordable and allows it to offer a broad network of doctors and hospitals, said spokeswoman Richele Messick. “It gives them greater visibility into the cost of care and how they spend their health care dollars,” she said.

Wells Fargo contributes up to $1,000 to workers’ accounts, depending on their salary and the plan they choose. Employees can also earn up to $800 by participating in corporate wellness programs, including health screenings and quizzes.

For many, however, high-deductible health plans are a burden. They are nearly twice as likely to skip going to the doctor when sick or injured as those with traditional plans, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Also, they are more likely to have difficulty paying other bills and to have decreased the amount they save.

Melissa Vance has had to go back to work. Her husband’s employer just jacked up the family’s deductible from $0 to $5,000. The Columbia, S.C., couple has four children with chronic conditions that require frequent lab work and costly medications.

Last year, Vance estimated she paid $2,000 for the family’s health care. This year, the tab will likely surpass $10,000, which she said will take them years to pay off.

“I have a stack of bills I haven’t even opened,” said Vance, who now works part-time as an administrative assistant. “I get nauseous every time I look at them.”

4 comments

  • tasha

    So the blame is on business and Obamacare has free stuff.
    What a dumbass article.Obamacare is the reason for the increases TO COVER THE “FREE” STUFF.My Obamacare deductible is $5,000,would love to have $1500.Also next tuesday the guy that cast the deciding vote for it MARK WARNER is on the ballot.

  • Deborah Fochler

    I am disabled. My blue cross blue shield costs me almost $600 a month and I have a $6500 deductible. Already this year, I have paid out more than $6500 in bills. But the company dont count the ones – they decline against my deductible. So already this year I have used my $4300 HSA account and just underwent a lot of tests and surgery and awake tonight because I know the bills are astronomical and dont know HOW I can pay them. Constantly have my doctor upset because I skip things I need to do. Dont know where or how this will end but…..

  • B ADDY

    This debacle called obamacare is just starting to show it’s ugly head. Maybe the idiot will actually read the next bill before he lie’s nonstop to get something passed that had not even been read.
    But I doubt it.

  • SouthernSiren

    I have one of those high deductible plans and it’s just horrible. Before I had this plan, I had to have more than half a dozen surgeries in two years and all my inpatient care was covered at 100%. If my company had decided to go with this plan before that happened, I’d still be suffering without being able to afford those surgeries. And my premiums are not lower with this high deductible plan. It’s just awful. Good, experienced, skilled employees have left the company over the high deductible insurance because they can’t afford to care for their family’s health.

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