High-Deductible Insurance Isn't the Money-Saver You Think

When you pick your health insurance, you may find yourself going for the plan with the lowest monthly payments. Those tend to have high deductibles, meaning you pay for a lot of medical care before the insurer kicks in. In theory, it's a great option for subscribers who tend to stay healthy and need little treatment. In reality, studies have found it can actually cost way more than advertised.

Researchers at the University of Southern California and the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation have found that one popular form of high-deductible health insurance, the so-called consumer-directed plan, falls down on one key front: Subscribers keep spending big bucks on "low-value" medical services. Twenty-six procedures fit that classification, including things like getting an MRI to investigate back pain or using high-tech imaging for an easy-to-diagnose headache. They're either unnecessary or they're not really proven to be useful for treatment. And ultimately, people with high-deductible plans aren't using consumer smarts when it comes to health care.

About 30 percent of Americans who get insurance through work have a consumer-directed plan, as do the vast majority of Obamacare marketplace customers. It all comes down to education and transparency — patients should be able to make informed choices about what procedures to get. Hospitals and health care providers also need to question their motives for issuing unnecessary medical tests.

Patients with high-deductible plans tend to spend less on health care overall, but they don't reduce their spending on service they may not need. A health scare is a terrible time to also be your own patient advocate, but whenever possible, communicate clearly with your doctors about what they hope to gain from a procedure and how it will help you, not the provider's bottom line.