Obamacare Trade-Off, Low Premium, High Deductible

Cheaper health care plans will cost you more down the road. 

Posted: 09/26/2013 10:54 AM EDT
Obamacare Trade-Off, Low Premium, High Deductible

You might be pleased with the low monthly premium for one of the new health insurance plans under President Barack Obama's overhaul, but the added expense of co-payments and deductibles could burn a hole in your wallet.

An independent analysis released Wednesday, on the heels of an administration report emphasizing affordable premiums, is helping to fill out the bottom line for consumers.

The annual deductible for a mid-range "silver" plan averaged $2,550 in a sample of six states studied by Avalere Health, or more than twice the typical deductible in employer plans. A deductible is the amount consumers must pay each year before their plan starts picking up the bills.

Americans looking for a health plan in new state insurance markets that open next week will face a trade-off familiar to purchasers of automobile coverage: to keep your premiums manageable, you agree to pay a bigger chunk of the repair bill if you get in a crash. Except that unlike an auto accident, serious illness is often not a self-contained event.

Avalere also found that the new plans will require patients to pay a hefty share of the cost — 40 percent on average — for certain pricey drugs, like the newer specialty medications used to treat intractable chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. On the other hand, preventive care will be free of charge to the patient.

"Consumers will need to balance lower monthly premiums against the potential for unpredictable, expensive out-of-pocket costs in plans with higher deductibles," said Caroline Pearson, a vice president of the private market analysis firm. "There is a risk that patients could forgo needed care when faced with high up-front deductibles."

Responding to the Avalere study, the Obama administration acknowledged the new plans aren't as generous as employer coverage, but said they nonetheless represent a big improvement over currently available individual policies, which can have gaps in coverage and even larger out-of-pocket costs.

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(Photo: GettyImages)

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