Because of fundamental changes in how the Senate bill would provide support to people, those deductibles are virtually guaranteed to grow.
The Senate bill proposes providing federal assistance for premiums based on a benchmark plan that is fundamentally less generous than the status quo. What that means is that the assistance is calculated based on a plan that shifts a greater portion of health-care costs onto the person through deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs. The bill also winds down federal payments that had significantly brought down lower-income Americans' share of their deductibles and co-pays.
Here's how the CBO explains it: A 40-year-old who makes $26,500 a year in the year 2026 would pay an annual premium of $1,700 under the current law, for a plan that covers 87 percent of their health-care costs. That same person would pay an annual premium of $1,600 a year -- slightly lower -- but for a plan that picks up only 58 percent of their health-care costs.
Another change the bill makes is to extend the premium assistance to people who make less than the federal poverty level, while effectively phasing out the Medicaid expansion that allowed adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible. Today, in states that expanded Medicaid, eligible people would typically pay no premiums and have few out-of-pocket costs. Since states probably will curtail their Medicaid enrollment as they face budgetary pressures, this would leave a growing number of poor people the option to buy their own insurance with the tax credits.
But health policy experts have been skeptical about whether that insurance would be attractive to people.
Here's how the CBO described the conundrum for someone who makes $11,400 a year in 2026: They would benefit from tax credits and pay only $300 a year in premiums for their insurance. But their deductible would be more than half their annual income. Buying a more generous plan -- with a deductible that is a third of that person's income -- would cost $1,700 a year.
"Many people in that situation would not purchase any plan ... although some people with assets to protect or who expect to have high use of health care would," the Congressional Budget Office report states.
Translation: Healthy people who don't think they'll use health care much won't bother signing up, seeing that they'd be on the hook for thousands of dollars of medical costs even if they had insurance. And that means mostly sick people will be motivated to sign up for insurance -- a pattern that insurers have complained makes the business of selling insurance untenable.