Despite claims by many that the economy is “turning around” and unemployment is dropping, the fact remains that millions of Americans are in serious financial straits. As individuals, families, and employers look for ways to cut expenses, more and more of them are increasing their health insurance deductibles as a way to save money by lowering their monthly premiums. (The number of people covered by high-deductible health plans has tripled since 2006, from 4.5 million Americans to 13.5 million, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry trade group.) Unfortunately, while the switch to high-deductible plans may save a few dollars, it may also kill a lot of people—most of whom will be men.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Harvard Medical School have found that men whose employer switched to high-deductible policies reduced the number of Emergency Room visits for minor complaints by 21 percent. On one hand, that doesn’t sound all bad. After all, we know that plenty of people who go to emergency rooms don’t really belong there and could get their medical needs taken care of in a less expensive venue. So hearing that young men cut their ER visits for sore throats, headaches, and minor sprains sounds like a good thing.
The problem is that men also cut their ER visits for serious issues—like irregular heartbeats and kidney stones—by 34 percent. As a result, when they can’t put it off any longer and finally do show up in the ER (or in the back of an ambulance), their symptoms—and outcomes—are worse.
Interestingly, women whose employer switched to high-deductible coverage also cut their ER visits for minor complaints—but not for serious problems.
The irony is that in an era when men are taking on a greater role in the home, becoming stay-at-home dads, and are passing up career advancement to have more time with their family, we’re essentially forcing the very same men to be even more macho than before and to ignore their symptoms—even if it kills them.