The High Cost of Being Uninsured—Even if You’re Young and Healthy

Uninsured_Flowchart

As we explained in a previous post, Visualizing the U.S. Healthcare Delivery System, Before, During, and After the Affordable Care Act, insurers are at the center of the healthcare delivery system in the United States. In this post we explain what that means for those outside this system—the uninsured.

U.S. Healthcare Delivery System Before ACA

If you’re young and/or healthy, going without insurance might seem like a reasonable gamble—after all, under current law (and proposed legislation) you can’t be turned down if you need insurance later. Under the ACA, you can’t even be charged more, and even the proposed AHCA only allows insurers to add a 30% surcharge for a coverage gap.

But if you’re not part of the managed care system, you lose out on its benefits. You pay more for medical care and expose yourself to unlimited economic loss in case of medical catastrophe.

Insurance provides the following benefits:

  •  Negotiated Discounts: Under managed care, insurers and managed care organizations negotiate prices with healthcare providers within their networks. When you see an in-network provider you are charged the lower negotiated price, even if you are paying out of pocket. That’s why even a high deductible plan still saves you money on healthcare.

  • Preventative Healthcare: The ACA requires insurers to cover certain preventative healthcare (like a yearly checkup or mammogram) at no cost to the insured. This care is provided for free even if you haven’t met your deductible. But to enjoy it, you need to have coverage.

  • Out-of-Pocket Annual Maximums: Insurance caps your annual out-of-pocket costs. In 2016, the out-of-pocket limits for plans on the ACA marketplace were $6,850 for an individual and $13,700 for a family. This means that once you’ve reached the maximum (through paying your deductible and co-insurance) insurance covers the rest. Without insurance, an illness or injury can have catastrophic financial consequences. A hospitalization can easily run into the $100,000s. Such medical bills may take years to pay off, and failure to pay can ruin your credit. Medical debt is a major cause of bankruptcy.

Whether or not you believe health insurance should be mandated, participating in the managed care system could be in your best interest. In addition to the personal benefits, Insurance has a myriad of societal benefits—from increased public health to less uncompensated care (which costs everyone through higher medical prices and/or taxes). Not to mention, a larger, more diverse insurance pool can bring down premiums for everyone.

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