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Patients Need Solutions for Covering their Cost of Care

Fraser Cobbe

Orange County Medical Society

Seminole County Medical Society

One of the greatest fortunes I have received in my life is the advice I received from my insurance agent back in 1999. I was a 25 year old college graduate starting a career as an Association Management professional in Manatee County, FL. The Medical Society had a modest amount of resources to contribute a small sum of money each month to cover a portion of my health insurance. While the low cost of an HMO product was attractive, my agent, Darin, wisely persuaded me to select a Health Savings Account (HSA). Our thought process was simple. Let's leverage the next couple decades of life when statistically I should need relatively few health care services to build a nest egg to pay for care needed when age starts to catch up with me. Fast forward to 2016, as I look at the realities facing many of my contemporaries and the $30K plus that has accumulated in my HSA, I could not be more thankful for Darin's sage advice.

Health News Florida has an article this week that discusses Point-of-Service Payments and the increased pressure on patients due to the high deductible plans that a majority of us now carry.

The article discusses the inability or unwillingness of physicians and hospitals to continue to render and finance care while patients find ways to pay their deductibles after the fact. It includes alarming statistics on the high percentage of patients that never cover their financial responsibility. The reality we must accept is physicians are no longer able to carry excessive amounts of debt on behalf of their patients. Both patients and physicians need solutions.

One of the missed opportunities of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that while it expanded access to insurance coverage and provided subsidies for premiums, it did not provide any mechanisms beyond premium assistance for patients to actually afford the health care they need. Insurance is relatively meaningless if you cannot afford the deductible to kick start your coverage.

As ACA reform looms, a renewed focus on the expansion of Health Savings Accounts must be part of the solution. Opponents are often too quick to dismiss HSAs as only being a solution for the well-off. I do not believe that has to be the case. We already have 529 plans that provide families tax incentives for contributions to cover the cost of college tuition for their family members. Yet no similar tax-advantaged savings plan exists for health care. If we can leverage the healthy years in life and use the tax code to encourage individuals, families, and maybe the government to contribute to health savings plans, we will give patients resources to pay for the care they need. Imagine the piece of mind and economic strength of a generation entering the work force with money already saved to be self sufficient with their health insurance premiums and deductibles.

Healthcare is not immune from the economic realities of any other industry. Consumers must have a capability to pay for the products and services they need. We need policies and programs that encourage saving and provide tools for patients to take control of the care they need.

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