Lower-income families may face unique challenges in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).
We administered a cross-sectional survey to a stratified random sample of families in a New England health plan's HDHP with at least $500 in annualized out-of-pocket expenditures. Lower-income families were defined as having incomes that were less than 300% of the federal poverty level. Primary outcomes were cost-related delayed or foregone care, difficulty understanding plans, unexpected costs, information-seeking, and likelihood of families asking their physician about hypothetical recommended services subject to the plan deductible. Multivariate logistic regression was used to control for potential confounders of associations between income group and primary outcomes.
Lower-income families (n = 141) were more likely than higher-income families (n = 273) to report cost-related delayed or foregone care (57% vs 42%; adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.81; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.15-2.83]). There were no differences in plan understanding, unexpected costs, or information-seeking by income. Lower-income families were more likely than others to say they would ask their physician about a $100 blood test (79% vs 63%; AOR, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.18-3.28) or a $1000 screening colonoscopy (89% vs 80%; AOR, 2.04; 95% CI, 1.06-3.93) subject to the plan deductible.
Lower-income families with out-of-pocket expenditures in an HDHP were more likely than higher-income families to report cost-related delayed or foregone care but did not report more difficulty understanding or using their plans, and might be more likely to question services requiring out-of-pocket expenditures. Policymakers and physicians should consider focused monitoring and benefit design modifications to support lower-income families in HDHPs.