Health care reform has ensured that many preventative health care visits are covered by health insurance without any copays or copayments. Preventative services should be free of charge, even when it comes to high-deductible health insurance plans. Unfortunately, about 20% of people who responded to a recent survey from the December issue of Health Affairs and carry a high-deductible health plan delayed or completed avoided a preventative office visit because of the cost. This is despite the fact that the visit would have been free of charge. This goes to show too many people do not understand this new perk under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
According to David Pittman’s article on MedPageToday.com, only 18% of respondents fully understood that their health insurance plan exempted preventative office visits from the typically higher copays. Mary Reed, DrPH, staff scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, says this confusion is creating barriers as people decide whether to attend their preventative care appointments. These consumer-directed health plans typically encourage patients to seek preventative health care at no-cost but the message is not getting received. The number of workers using these plans and utilizing health savings accounts has risen dramatically in the last few years from 8% in 2009 to 19% in 2012. The survey shows that there is still a high number of people who do not understand exactly how the plans work and what their actual benefits are.
Over half of the respondents thought that all office visits applied to their deductible and were unaware that preventative visits were not included. About 48% believed all medical tests applied to their deductible even though certain preventative screenings cost very little out-of-pocket. People who thought preventative care visits cost money were more likely to avoid the visits all together, understandably so. Obviously, in order for these preventative care visits to be effective, people must understand how they work and that they even exist. Preventative care is free in the hopes that it will reduce medical costs in the future, but if people aren’t seeing the doctor to help prevent illness, then cost-savings won’t be seen in the future.
This comprehensive study randomly sampled adults under the age of 65 in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California network that were enrolled in specific accounts through their employer through 2007. It’s possible the findings of the study do not reflect consumers throughout the nation, but it’s defintely not a good sign. The study relied on self-reported data rather than actual utilization data which may make results harder to fully understand. Hopefully with the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act by 2014, more and more consumers will understand how preventative care doctor visits and screenings will impact their deductibles and health savings accounts. It seems from the study, that more people will take advantage of preventative care if they know it’s free or very affordable. Consistent and on-going education from health insurers is crucial to the success of health care overall. People need to take responsibility for understanding their plans as well and ask questions if they meet any confusion or find any discrepancies.
Written by Sam Tabes
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Tags: affordable health insurance, health care reform, health savings account, high-deductible health plan