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Consumers may have health coverage but that doesn’t mean they get it.

Somewhere along the way our society failed. We failed to make sure people understand the financial realities and responsibilities of having health coverage. Maybe it’s because employers traditionally paid the brunt of the costs. Maybe it’s because we falsely assumed coverage costs and care costs were one and the same. Maybe it’s because health coverage can be complicated and overwhelming and scary so we chose not to think about it at all.

“Maybe” isn’t an acceptable excuse anymore.

Americans are taking on — and will continue to take on — more financial responsibility for their health coverage and care expenses. What’s really frightening about this shift? A lot of it boils down to lack of understanding and preparation for the expenses they’re now responsible for. Given that 65% of people have less than $1,000 to pay out-of-pocket expenses associated with an unexpected serious illness or accident,i and 78% of people who file bankruptcy for medical reasons had health coverage,ii millions of Americans — including the ones who actually have health coverage — are at significant financial risk each year. So what do we do about it? First, we help consumers understand the real, financial responsibility of having health coverage. Then, we equip them with tools to help deal with it.

When they’re buying a home or car, consumers get it.

Consumers must show — through personal assets or financing — how they will pay for major purchases like a home or car.

Home purchase: You get a mortgage. You pay the monthly principal and interest to cover the base costs of ownership. You face additional expenses not covered by your monthly payment for things such as utilities, maintenance and repairs. You purchase one or more types of insurance coverage — property insurance, private mortgage insurance, mortgage protection insurance — to protect yourself against significant financial loss.

Car purchase: You get a loan. You pay the monthly principal and interest to cover the base costs of ownership. You face additional expenses not covered by your monthly payment for gas and ongoing maintenance. You purchase one or more types of insurance coverage — liability insurance, collision insurance, comprehensive coverage insurance — to protect yourself against significant financial loss.

When they’re buying health coverage, consumers aren’t getting it.

The purchase process looks much different for private health coverage.

Health coverage purchase: You enroll in a plan (personal or through an employer). You pay the monthly premium to cover the base costs of coverage.

Oftentimes it stops there. Americans are not required to show, much less consider, how they will afford the additional out-of-pocket medical expenses they may face during the course of the year. The very action of enrolling may be considered a misnomer since the concept of “signing up” for something doesn’t always include a price tag.

So yes, they’ve signed up for health coverage. But what they may not realize is they’ve just signed up for what amounts to a major purchase.

An unlikely comparison — or is it?

According to the 2016 Milliman Index, a family of four with private health coverage can face up to $4,316 in out-of-pocket medical expenses during the year. Based on what we know about the state of Americans’ emergency funds, it’s doubtful these families even have an extra $360 each month — much less that they’re stashing $360 in savings each month to cover potential out-of-pocket medical expenses.

While there are unique differences in managing home or car expenses compared to managing health coverage and care expenses, applying the same approach can go a long way in helping consumers better understand how health coverage costs work and what their responsibilities are. Much like homeowners and auto insurance plans help limit financial strain for consumers, there is a category of insurance products designed to help limit financial strain due to out-of-pocket medical and non-medical expenses not paid for by health coverage. For those who cannot save upwards of $4,000 — or let’s face it, even $1,000 — these insurance products offer a lower-cost alternative to help manage their financial risk.

These products are typically offered in the form of accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance plans and most commonly sold through payroll deduction at the workplace as part of an employer’s benefits package. They’re designed specifically to protect against financial hardship resulting from common accidents, hospital stays, stroke, heart attack, cancer and more. Cash benefits are paid directly to the insureds who can use them however they see fit for both out-of-pocket medical and non-medical expenses.

Value-focused on day one and every day after.

Historically, there may have been hesitation on the part of benefits brokers and employers to offer, not to mention the hesitation of employees to purchase, these products because you pay into something you may not get anything out of if there’s never a claim. Sound like homeowner’s or auto insurance? Perhaps so — except those types of insurance products are typically required by lenders or state governments.

Carriers understand the value play for these products and also recognize the need to offer a “carrot” that will ease hesitation and increase confidence in making them available to employees. Many are now embedding value-added services at no additional charge that provide value starting on day one of coverage and throughout the life of the plan — whether or not the insured ever needs to file a claim. Balancing peace-of-mind for “what if” scenarios with services that provide immediate return on the investment of premium dollars in one or more of these plans can go a long way in increasing buyer confidence and the value consumers place in how these plans integrate with the overall financial management of their health coverage and care.

Use of these services can result in time and money savings for employers in the form of presenteeism, less employee time away from work and reduced medical plan costs and for employees in the form of potentially reduced medical bills, access to lower-cost care and less missed work due to research, appointments or recovery. Yet perhaps the most impactful component of these services is customers have allies to help them along their journey and instill peace of mind. Allies who will listen. Allies who will advocate. Allies who will help fill needs customers might not even know they have.

Create a major purchase mindset.

Employees enrolled in insurance products such as accident, critical illness or hospital indemnity are more likely to say they are extremely or very prepared to pay out-of-pocket expenses not covered by health coverage related to an unexpected serious accident or illness compared to employees not offered these benefits.xix Yet nationally, only 26% of employers offer some type of these products to their employees.xx

We must flip the consumer mindset that has not been given a complete picture of the financial responsibilities of having health coverage. We must provide more access and education to help make sure consumers can afford their coverage and care despite delicate financial circumstances. And we must give them additional insurance coverage options to plan for these responsibilities as cost-effectively as possible.

In time we can reverse long-held views and misconceptions, building a body of consumers who not only have a greater understanding of what their health coverage does and doesn’t pay for, but also take steps to protect themselves so they’re less likely to experience significant financial hardship due to health care expenses.

Because they’ll be treating health coverage like what it actually is – a major purchase.