Health insurance plans are complicated. This used to be the problem of the Human Resources department. However, today more Americans then ever are sharing the responsibility of making decisions for their employer based health care coverage. Millions more are on their own, purchasing health insurance in the private market. While many decisions are centered on the monthly premium, the level of your health insurance deductible can greatly impact the overall cost of your plan and even your level of care.
What is a Deductible?
A deductible is the amount of health care that the insured must pay before the health plan provider begins to make payments. The deductible applies only to medical care that has been billed directly through the insurance provider. It does not apply to any medical care paid for outside of the health plan.
Deductibles can vary widely from just a few hundred dollars to over $10, 000 a year. Some will vary based on in-network versus out-of-network medical care. The deductible is wiped clear once a year, usually on January 1st.
Most people have typically received health care coverage through their employer. Under such plans, the worker generally paid very little for actual medical care used. There might be a co-pay for a visit to the doctor and perhaps a small yearly deductible, but for the most part, benefits meant you did not pay much, if at all, for the health care you used.
But that’s often no longer the case. The reality is that health care costs have been on a steady, high growth rate over the past two decades. The cost for an employer to provide health benefits has reached a critically high level, in many cases well over five figures. In response, many employers have pushed some of the costs back on the employee. This is often seen directly in an increased share of the monthly premium paid by the employee, but also an increase in plans with high deductibles, most or all of which will be the responsibility of the employee.
High or Low?
When selecting a health care plan, many people focus on the monthly premium. When it comes to budgeting, many people think in month-to-month terms. Low premium, high deductible plans can look attractive. However, with such plans, the insured will have to spend a lot of money out of pocket, in addition to the premium, in the event that they use medical care. Plans such as these are best paired with a health savings account, so that money can be saved tax-free towards the deductible. Otherwise you may be stuck with a very large medical bill you are unprepared to pay.
Many people are used to low-deductible plans, and often prefer them. Its nice to know your medical care has been largely taken care of in a standard monthly payment. Part of why people have insurance is to have predictable costs. However, the cost of high premium plans has risen dramatically over the years, often beyond what a car payment is and in some cases rivaling a house payment. This has made high premium plans less attractive.
What Is best For You?
In general, a high deductible plan will have a lower total yearly cost then a high premium plan. This is because many people do not use as much medical care as they think over the course of a year. What they have to pay towards a deductible is often offset by their monthly savings with the lower premium.
If you are someone who uses a lot of health care year in and year out, a high premium plan may be a better solution. High premium plans can also be a good decision for people who have a hard time saving. A high deductible plan can be a major hardship for people who do not have much in savings and who typically do not save a lot of money. A high premium plan is somewhat like a forced savings plan.