K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: More Cost of Health Care Shifts to Consumers

Stephanie Armour:

Americans increasingly have to dig into their own pockets to pay for medical care, a shift that is helping to curb the growth in health spending by employers and the government.

The trend is being accelerated by the Affordable Care Act because many private plans sold by the law’s health exchanges come with hefty out-of-pocket costs, which prompt some people to delay or put off seeking care.

For the exchanges’ 2015 policies, which went on sale last month, “bronze- level” plans have an average deductible of $5,181 for individuals, up from $5,081 in 2014, according to a November report from HealthPocket, which publishes health insurance market analyses. Bronze plans generally cover 60% of consumers’ medical expenses.

While surveys show steeper out-of-pocket costs lead some people to defer even routine medical care, economists say the trend brings an important upside: It is helping fuel a period of historically low growth in health-care spending, which eases the federal deficit.

The federal government said Wednesday that 2013 was the fifth consecutive year in which health spending grew at less than 4%. The 3.6% rate is the lowest since the government began tracking such spending in the 1960s. While economists initially credited the recession for the soft spending growth, the trend continued even as the economy improved.