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Friday
Nov212008

What can we deduce about Deductibles?

By Clive Riddle

Mercer’s Study finds the median individual deductible jumps to $1,000

Mercer just released results from their 2008 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, with headlines declaring “$1,000 health plan deductible was the norm in 2008.” And this was just for traditional PPO plans, not counting consumer driven high deductible health plans. And this was the median figure, not the mean which is more susceptible to skewing upwards given the wide range of benefit design out there. And this was for individual, not family coverage.

Certainly the ongoing increase of consumer cost sharing built into plan design, and the growth in consumer driven high deductible health plans that has paved the way for the trend and acceptance in higher deductibles in traditional PPO plans as well. As Blaine Bos, of Mercer tell us, “The introduction of the HSA may have changed employers’ thinking on just how high a deductible can go without causing employees to revolt. Raising the deductible has become the fallback for employers faced with cost increases they can’t handle. It’s the easiest way to reduce cost without taking more out of every employee’s paycheck.”

But not so fast, there’s a little more to the deductible story than just $1,000 individual deductibles. Deductible amounts are quite different for small versus large employers. Mercer found the median deductible for large employers is just $300. Other surveys have borne this out as well. The Kaiser Family Foundatio/HRET Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey yielded lower deductible amounts for traditional PPOs, but with the same separation by size: a mean of $560 overall, but $917 for small employers and $413 for large employers.

It also shouldn’t be glossed over that the KFF/HRET study found the mean deductible at $560, a far cry from $1,000. Too bad KFF didn’t share what the median was, but they report the following distribution: 52% under $500; 30% $500 to $999; 13% $1,000-1,999; and 4% $2,000+.

The trend for first dollar coverage of wellness and certain value-based benefits should be noted as well. While deductibles are rising fast, more employers are adopting plans designs with first dollar coverage for specific wellness and "value based" items. This at least make a larger deductible a little more palatable, and allows plan design to influence desired objectives.

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