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The Rise of Useless Health Insurance

What is the point of having health insurance that you can’t use?

This is the question raised by high-deductible health plans, which are becoming increasingly common. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, deductibles have increased eight times faster than wages since 2008, increasing to an average of $1,573. Almost half of people with employer-based coverage have a high-deductible plan, defined as $1,300 for single people and $2,600 for family coverage.

The fact that the average deductible is higher than that “high-deductible” definition should tell you, the Math Knower, that there’s a significant chunk of people whose deductibles are far higher than that—like this person profiled by NPR today, whose deductible is $6,000. After learning that she had a genetic mutation that predisposes her to breast cancer, she decided to get regular mammograms, but found that her insurance didn’t cover much:

Susan went in for her first mammogram and MRI in February 2017. Her out-of-pocket cost for the MRI was more than $2,000. The bill for her mammogram was $1,088 (although she was eventually able to appeal and have the charges for the mammogram reduced to $191).

As a result of the high bill, Susan decided to put off her 2018 annual screenings until she had dealt with paying off the bills from 2017.

Susan had insurance from her employer, for whom she’d worked for 17 years. Recall that the industry opponents of Medicare for All, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, frequently cites the apparent success and superior quality of employer-based insurance as a reason why Medicare for All is doomed.