Consumers signing up for new ACA-compliant healthcare plans may choose a lower-tier plan to save money, but the decision comes at a high price – that is, increased deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
As previously reported, available plans fall into one of five cost categories that feature increasing premiums but offer decreasing deductibles in exchange. Premiums for all plans are higher than 2013 premiums, but individuals who earn up to four times the national poverty level can qualify for tax credits to offset their premiums.
Consumers who purchase at least a silver plan and who earn up to 2.5 times the poverty level can apply for additional credits to offset deductible and out-of-pocket costs, further relieving the burden of care. However, consumers who cannot receive the extra assistance may bet on their own health and choose a more affordable monthly payment over better coverage.
Higher deductibles could create scenarios in which patients forego needed care to avoid a hefty bill, which runs contrary to the purpose of the ACA, or they receive care and are later unable to pay the bill which contributes to hospitals’ bad debt.
Despite the unpleasant news, the ACA also caps annual out-of-pocket expenses (including co-pays) for an individual at $6,350 – a large number, but significantly lower than past plans that may not have capped expenses at all. This may ameliorate some of consumers’ sticker shock, particularly for patients whose cost of care quickly exceeds that threshold due to serious injuries or chronic conditions. Also, well check visits and prescriptions are covered at varying levels as minimum essential benefits and are deductible-free in some cases.
The best advice for individuals still shopping for the right health care plan is to consider not only the up-front cost of a monthly premium, but also the real cost of using the plan should the need arise.