High Deductible Health Plans, Gamble for Some, On the Rise

Posted on: August 24, 2013

Near the end of last year, a big finance company in Charlotte, N.C., was doing what a lot of other businesses have been doing recently: switching up their health care offerings.

“Everything was changing, and we would only be offered two choices and each were a high-deductible plan,” says Marty Metzl, whose husband works for the company.

High-deductible plans are the increasingly common kind of health insurance that have cheaper premiums than traditional plans, but they put you on the hook for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs before the insurance kicks in.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, back in 2006, just 10 percent of Americans who get health insurance through their employers had a high-deductible plan. Today, more than a third have them, and that percentage is growing daily.

The trend, which could increase with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, has some doing the math before seeking care.

What’s It Going To Cost?

For the Metzls, the options were deductibles of $3,000 or $4,500.

“After much angst and thinking and talking, we decided to choose the higher deductible plan,” Metzl tells NPR’s Jacki Lyden. “It really just felt like we were rolling the dice and gambling that none of us would get sick or have any catastrophic accident in 2013.”

That gamble didn’t pay off. Late one night, Metzl was working at home when she heard her husband yell for her to come to the bathroom. Her son had hit his head. She says that even though blood was running from his head and down his back, her thoughts quickly went to the family’s insurance.

“It was like something out of a horror movie, and I was standing there thinking — instead of, ‘Oh my gosh what happened to my son’ — I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how much is this going to cost if we have to take him to the ER at 11 at night?’ ” Metzl says. “I mean, I was horrified that that thought even came into my mind, but that’s where my brain went.”

The Metzls decided not to take their son in. Instead, they patched him up as best they could and sent him back to bed.