Sick with worry over health care

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I was home sick for three days with bronchitis last week, and it was good timing. My cough, which confined me to the couch, gave me plenty of time to read several articles illuminating disastrous aspects of our health care system I previously knew nothing about. In BusinessWeek, I read about working class patients who now have to pay 25 percent interest on their medical bills. In the Wall Street Journal, I read about Jim Dawson, who went through a hellish medical ordeal and found himself owing over $1 million, because he had reached his insurer's lifetime coverage limit. I felt my blood pressure rising as I read the piece, but it was like watching a train wreck; I couldn't pull myself away. (I don't want to give away the ending, but suffice to say it's worth reading the story all the way through.)

It was enough to make me want to reach for a Xanax. Or maybe a pack of cigarettes. To top it off, I read that many doctors underestimate the amount of radiation given off by CT scans. According to a new study, CT scans cause radiation levels "comparable to that received by some people miles from the epicenters of the 1945 atomic blasts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan." My husband, a cancer survivor, gets CT scans every six months, and now it turns out that cancer prevention causes cancer. What a bummer.

But that's all just a long, time-wasting preamble that has little to do with my main point, which is that there are precious few signs that high-deductible health plans, the money-saving solution du jour, are alleviating the pain. According to this report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, companies with high deductible plans spend, on average, $4,254 per year per employee for single coverage. Other plans, without high deductibles, cost $4,514. That's a difference of less than $300, and it's not even statistically significant (see page 136, figure 8.5). A similar survey from Mercer found that consumer-driven health plans cost $6,088 per person, compared with $6,202 for an HMO—a savings of less than two percent. To be sure, I know that sometimes every penny counts. And according to both studies, high-deductible plans save a lot more money when you're covering families, not just singles. But the point remains: we're in bad shape.

And that's just another long preamble to my other point, which is that I'm looking for health care horror stories. Have you switched to an HSA, only to find that the savings you expected were illusory? Or, have you had any success? Have you found any creative ways to save money on health care? Tell your stories in the comments section or email me at hclark(at)inc.com.

Last updated: Dec 4, 2007




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