The problem with deductibles

From the NYT: “The Affordable Care Act was supposed to improve access to health insurance, and it did. It reduced the number of Americans who were uninsured through the Medicaid expansion and the creation of the health insurance marketplaces. Unfortunately, it has not done enough to protect people from rising out-of-pocket expenses in the form of deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.

“Out-of-pocket expenses exist for a reason; people are less likely to spend their own money than an insurance company’s money, and these expenses are supposed to make patients stop and think before they get needless care. But this moral-hazard argument assumes that patients are rational consumers, and it assumes that cost-sharing in the form of deductibles and co-pays makes them better shoppers. Research shows this is not the case. Instead, extra costs result in patients not seeking any care, even if they need it.

“Cost-sharing isn’t set up in a thoughtful way such that it might steer people away from inefficient care toward efficient care. Deductibles are, frankly, ridiculous. The use of deductibles assumes that all medical spending is the same and that the system should disincentivize all of it, starting over each Jan. 1. There is no valid argument for why that should be. Flu season peaks in the winter. We were in an Omicron surge at the beginning of this year. Making that the time when people are most discouraged from getting care doesn’t make sense.

“Co-pays and co-insurance aren’t much better. They treat all patients the same, and they assume that all patients should be treated the same way. …

“The purpose of insurance is to protect people from financial ruin if they face unexpected medical expenses. Reducing the amount that they need to pay from six figures to five is necessary, but not sufficient. It’s not enough to give people insurance. That insurance must also be comprehensive.”

One thought on “The problem with deductibles

  1. It’s not too hard to point out how the current system sucks. The difficult part is figuring out a system that’s better. My preference is that someone must point to a country whose system they prefer. The reason for that definiteness is that it means that you can clearly see the bad results of that system as well as its good results.

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