What Good Is Health Plan Cost-Sharing When Persons Can’t Afford to Access Care?

Increasing numbers of persons challenged by cost-sharing options only adds to the growing tally of persons struggling with social determinants of health and mental health; this counters efforts to attain wholistic health equity.

Outcomes
Researchers analyzed data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances with telling results:
• High percentages of non-elderly households lack sufficient assets to meet typical plan cost-sharing amounts.
-45% of single-person non-elderly households unable to pay average cost-sharing amounts of $2,000 annually; low income households were in the same boat
-63% could not pay over the higher plan amounts of $6,000.
• Available liquid assets for single-person non-elderly households with incomes <150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) were limited; available assets averaged $577 vs $1,753 for those between 150% and 400% of FPL, and $13,243 for those above 400% of FPL.
• Median available liquid assets among multi-person households were $698 for those below 150% of poverty compared to $2,996 for households between 150% and 400% of poverty, and $23,439 for households with incomes of 400% of poverty or more.
• 84% of multi-person households with incomes <150% of the FPL lack $4,000 in liquid assets
• 50% of households could not afford a basic employer insurance plan deductible ($2000)
• 2:3 households lacked funds to covered a high-end deductible ( $6000)

Deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance are common means of health plan cost-sharing. However, what happens when healthcare consumers are unable to pay them? A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed the sorry truth: health plan enrollees are too often unable to access the care they need, or forced into medical debt and bankruptcy to do so. In a time when strong efforts are in play to bridge healthcare disparities and ease access to care, that reality remains an elusive butterfly for too many individuals.

Most households lack sufficient liquid assets to meet an out-of-pocket maximum. Some might recall that the Affordable Care Act limited out-of-pocket maximums for most private health insurance plans: $8700 for single coverage, $17,400 for family coverage. This is appalling considering the Affordable Care Act set out-of-pocket minimums, yet the average out-of-pocket maximum for single coverage in 2021 was $4272.

Rising Medical Debt
Amid the pandemic, high numbers of persons faced emergency medical bills from care, whether related to COVID-related costs, or deferred health and behavioral issues. Roughly 62% of households with incomes between 150% and 400% of the poverty level were unable to afford care or access the approximately $3000 needed to cover urgent care costs.

Recent reports show dismal results for persons dealing with psychosocial challenges, as well as rising medical debt:
• >50% of Americans experience medical debt
• >57% owed over $1000
• 40% had problems paying medical bills or affording premiums
• 65% who earned <$40,000 and 51% earning $40,000 to $75,000 could not afford premiums despite having employer-sponsored coverage.

• >51% of persons with employer-sponsored plans reported someone in their household delayed or skipped care, or filling a prescription due to the associated expense
• 26% of adults with an employer-sponsored plan had to cut spending on food, clothes, or other household items to pay their health-related expenses.
• 20% took on an additional credit card debt to pay their expenses

The rising numbers of persons challenged by cost-sharing options must be resolved. This reality only adds to the growing tally of persons struggling with social determinants of health and mental health, countering efforts to attain health equity. More must be done to enhance access to care for every person across the wholistic health landscape of physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health.

Author: Ellen's Interprofessional Insights

Bio: Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning industry subject matter expert on interprofessional ethics, wholistic health equity, trauma-informed leadership, and supervision. She is an esteemed professional speaker, author, and knowledge developer with academic appointments at George Mason University and the University of Buffalo. Ellen is a clinical supervision trainer for NASW of Virginia, and serves in national leadership and consultant roles. She is also a Doctoral in Behavioral Health Candidate at Cummings Graduate Institute of Behavioral Health Studies. Further information is available on her LinkedIn Bio and website

2 thoughts on “What Good Is Health Plan Cost-Sharing When Persons Can’t Afford to Access Care?”

  1. Research & Development costs are typically cited by the profitable industry to justify its exorbitant prices and resistance to universal pharmacare coverage. I believe that this corporate resistance is why every Canadian federal government to date has not implemented such much-needed coverage, even after promising to do so.

    Not only does this make medication affordability much harder, but many low-income outpatients who cannot afford to fill their prescriptions end up back in the hospital system thus costing far more than if their generic-brand medication was covered.

    Wouldn’t logic say that we cannot afford to maintain such an absurdity that costs Canada billions extra annually? (And considering it’s a potential life-and-death issue, why has our news-media not pursued it far more than it has? Or is there an over-reliance on Big Pharma advertisement revenue?)

    I seriously doubt it’s coincidental that the absence of universal medication coverage also keeps the pharmaceutical industry’s profits soaring. Without doubt, its Ottawa lobbyists—who immediately went into full gear talking our government out of implementing a universal generic-brand medication coverage plan—are very much worth their bloated salaries.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: