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Does the ACA impact how consumers shop for health care?

Employee Benefits
by Chris Merkel
Does the ACA impact how consumers shop for health care?
Does the ACA impact how consumers shop for health care?

Over the past decade or more, consumers' annual health care costs have risen considerably, which is now problematic for a large number of Americans. Partially in response to this problem, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was implemented with an eye toward keeping these health care costs limited, and now experts acknowledge that it seems to have also affected how consumers actually shop for the coverage that helps them do so.

One of the biggest impacts both these changes have had in the last few years is that they're making people more aware of their health insurance deductibles, which like premiums themselves have generally been increasing for some time now, according to a report from Health Insurance Exchange. Consequently, many consumers - often through their employers' offerings - are now enrolling in Health Savings Accounts and similar options, as a means of helping them to better cover those added costs.

What does this mean for consumers?
Basically, these accounts are designed to help them cover medical costs when they need to, and building up a significant amount over time can help to reduce the need for fretting over a deductible of $1,000 or so, the report said. Health insurance companies, in fact, are actively encouraging employers who provide their workers with health insurance to start offering HSAs more regularly, because this seems to encourage additional enrollment for consumers who might otherwise not be quite so eager to get involved.

Others, however, are taking a different approach, and it too is one that was afforded to them by the ACA's implementation, the report said. This comes in the form of consumers having a better overall understanding of "tiered" pricing, where people can sign up for something knowing that there are better options out there, but which might come with higher premiums. Some - usually those who are young and in fairly good health - consequently choosing to go with plans that limit their options and potentially carry higher deductibles, but also have much smaller premiums that keep ongoing health care costs minimized.

Health insurers likewise may want to start rising to meet these emerging consumer preferences by offering as broad a range of coverage options as possible. When consumers are presented with more choice, they might be more likely to find an option that makes sense for them, and buy coverage. Of course, these additional plan designs will need to be compliant with the tiered "metallic levels" of coverage, such as Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

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