Disastrous Obamacare policy doesn’t sell

By Phil Galewitz

The Obama administration decided this week to allow people to buy catastrophic policies if their personal health plans are canceled, amid reports that Fewer people buy these cheaper policies on sale in the new online insurance marketplace.

In California, only 1% of people who opted for coverage within the first two months after the market opened had opted for catastrophic coverage. In Kentucky and Connecticut, only 2 percent chose a catastrophic plan from their state’s online communications. In Washington state, only 0.4% of consumers opted for a catastrophic plan. The federal government, which operates the Healthcare.gov portal for 36 states, has not released data showing what types of plans consumers are choosing.

Catastrophic health insurance plans cover all essential health benefits, such as doctor and hospital visits, but have a very high deductible. Premiums for catastrophic plans may be lower than traditional health insurance plans, but the deductibles are usually much higher.

As expected, the most common level of policy purchased today is a silver plan, according to officials in California and other states that disclosed the data.

Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University, said she was not surprised that the catastrophic plan had little effect. That’s because these plans were previously only available to those under 30 and those deemed unaffordable for employer insurance, which costs more than 8% of consumers’ income. Despite lower premiums for catastrophic plans, consumers do not receive tax subsidies or reduced cost-sharing.

Those with incomes below 400% of the federal poverty level ($45,800 this year) may get better treatment Buy a silver or bronze type of policy with lower out-of-pocket costs, experts say.

The high deductible in a catastrophic plan may also put off some buyers, Colette said.

“We don’t anticipate high demand for catastrophic plans,” said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for Kynect, the Kentucky insurance marketplace. In addition to their limited audience and lack of subsidies, she said, “We also think consumers are savvy and will weigh deductibles and cost-sharing amounts alongside their monthly premiums.”

Joel Cantor, director of state health policy at Rutgers University, said people would find catastrophic policies appealing if they were previously enrolled in a program with a high deductible or a limited benefit plan that is no longer allowed. In the personal market for wholesale cheap jerseys, many have had their basic plans scrapped, he said.

“For them, catastrophic plans make more sense because they are extremely price-sensitive,” he said. On the other hand, he said, they could get better by buying subsidized bronze plans transactions and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

Kaiser Health News is an independent editorial project of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.