Most Americans Have No Clue How Health Insurance Works in America


EBRI has released its annual workplace benefits survey, and for the most part it’s a triumph of status quo bias. Most people are fairly satisfied with their benefits and not especially eager for change. But there’s one particular question that produced a different response. Here it is:

I’m scratching my head a bit over this. The thing is, employer health insurance is the gold standard of American health insurance. Sure, every year employee cost sharing rises and copays go up, but it’s still great compared to nearly all individual plans. Deductibles are small and out-of-pocket maxes are low. Plus it’s nontaxable. If you have a choice between employer insurance and individual health insurance, about 99 percent of the time you’d be crazy not to take the employer plan.

And yet, 66 percent (!) of respondents wanted to go out and choose a plan on the open market and then get reimbursed in one way or another. The only thing I can figure is that this demonstrates just how little most people know about health insurance. They have no idea that the full value of employer health insurance is free of income tax, which makes it a great deal compared to spending your own money. Nor, as so many people are suddenly discovering about Obamacare, do they realize that individual plans usually have large deductibles and stratospheric out-of-pocket maxes. For those reasons, buying an individual plan on the open market and then getting reimbursed for it is almost certainly a losing proposition.

Maybe I’m missing something here, and people understood the question differently than me. But on the surface, this sure seems to indicate that most Americans simply have no clue about how health insurance works in this country.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.