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.

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.

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