While the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of Americans with health insurance, the outcome for many has been that they are forced to pay more out of pocket for care and pay up front or not get the services they need. We'll take a look at how some health plans are increasing out of pocket costs, what you can do about it and what to do if you get in over your head with medical expenses you can't afford to pay.
How out of pockets costs are impacting North Carolina consumers
In order to get a healthcare plan that was affordable, many consumers had to take a high deductible plan that offered low cost (or free) preventative care and hope that nothing serious would happen. Because so many plans come with high co-pays or deductibles that many struggle to pay, this turns into a debt collection hassle for hospitals and medical practitioners. Medical providers are trying to combat bad debt by requiring patients to pay their share in advance.
What this means is that people may be turned away for non-emergency or non-life threatening treatments. While you've likely come to expect to be asked for your co-pay when you come into your regular doctor or specialist's office for an appointment, you don't expect it before outpatient surgery. But this is all changing and you may not be able to get the service until you have your share of the payment. Whether this is fair or not, it's the growing trend.
How to combat rising healthcare costs
Many people are also now seeing an increase in not only their out of pocket medical costs, but an increase in plan premiums now that plans are renewing. You may also see a decrease in the amount of subsidy you get to help cover the cost of the premiums. This is driven by not only by your income and tax status, but also by the difference between the plan you've chosen and benchmark plans (i.e. the lowest cost plans).
To help combat rising premiums and out of pocket costs, you shouldn't just automatically accept a renewal of your current plan. Call into HealthCare.gov's customer service line and ask for assistance. Here are some talking points for that call that may help you lower costs:
- Look for a plan that limits your choices of doctors but that offers cheaper premiums
- Report any decreases in income or changes in family status that may increase your subsidy
- Shop plans from different providers to see if you can get a better deal in the growing market
- Ask or calculate whether a richer plan will reduce your overall out of pocket costs if you have ongoing health issues (i.e. you'll pay more in premiums but may have a smaller deductible or smaller co-pays or co-insurance costs)
How to deal with a pile of medical bills you can't pay
If you've had a major medical event such as a serious accident or illness that you've now recovered from (or know you will recover from), you may want to keep bankruptcy in your back pocket as an option. For instance, if you had cancer and have a pile of bills for treatments that you can't pay or had a premature childbirth and have a mountain of bills you can't afford along with maxed out credit cards and other debts you can't afford because of the health condition, you can turn to bankruptcy for help.