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Health care costing Americans more

NEW YORK — Visit to New York City orthopedist: $223. One X-ray: $50. One follow-up magnetic resonance imaging test: $766. Total bill for checking out that aching shoulder: $1,039 – all to be paid by the patient, rather than the insurer.

Health care has gone retail.

Over the next 18 months, between one quarter and one half of Americans who get insurance coverage through their employers will pay more of their doctor bills themselves as companies roll out health care plans with higher deductibles, benefits consultants say. The result: sticker shock.

“They have huge out-of-pocket costs before they get any insurance coverage, it’s a real slap in the face,” said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a health care advocacy group.

High-deductible plans set a threshold for medical expenses that an individual must pay for, often in the thousands of dollars, before insurance kicks in. Studies show people on these plans are three times more likely to delay or skip care than people on traditional plans, where doctor or emergency room visits are covered by a relatively low co-payment.

These plans have been around for years, pushed by employers, insurers and industry experts who believe that consumers with “skin in the game” will drive demand for better quality care at a lower cost. It is a rationale also backed by President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

But now corporate America’s adoption of high-deductible plans is accelerating, partly because of Obama’s health care reform, which requires insurance plans to provide more expansive coverage such as preventive care. (Reuters)

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