Those accustomed to obtaining health insurance through the workplace and choosing among different types of policies may be in for a rude surprise.
Increasingly, employers of all sizes are eliminating choice and offering only high-deductible plans — euphemistically referred to in the insurance world as consumer-directed health plans or HDHPs.
The looming shift has nothing to do with Obamacare or even the widely held belief that certain types of health plans will encourage people to give up costly bad habits like smoking. It is about profit.
The trend appears to be irreversible. Within the next few years, most Americans not only will find that the plans they’ve been enrolled in for years are no longer available, but that they will also have to pay much more out-of-pocket for medical care.
There were many reasons why I left my job in the insurance industry, but near the top of the list was the expectation that I be, for all practical purposes, a snake oil salesman. If I were still in the business, I would be part of an industry-wide campaign to persuade employers, policy makers and the general public that high-deductible plans are the new silver bullet.
Not only will HDHPs reduce health care costs, according to the campaign propaganda, forcing people into them will cause them to lead healthier lifestyles.
That’s the hype. And the hype is necessary to obscure the real reason insurers and employers are herding more and more of us into HDHPs: they’re perfect vehicles to shift more of the cost of care from them to us.
Even in 2008, the last year I worked for an insurance company, my colleagues in the sales division were encouraging employers to go “total replacement,” which means eliminating all choices except high-deductible plans. Insurers have long used proprietary “studies” supposedly proving that making people pay more out of pocket for medical care will “incentivize” them to lead healthier lives.