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Prognosis

Sky-High Deductibles Broke the U.S. Health Insurance System

Employers are questioning a system they say costs patients too much.

cathryn_virginia_risking_it
Illustration: Cathryn Virginia

When Carla Jordan and her husband were hit with a cascade of serious medical issues, she knew that at least her family had health insurance through her job. What she didn’t realize was that even with that coverage, a constant stream of medical bills would soon push the family to the edge of financial collapse.

The Jordans, both 40, were once solidly in the middle class, but ever since the 2008 financial crisis, money has been tight at best. Then calamity hit. In 2016, Carla needed a gallbladder operation. Her husband John suffered a seizure the same year, followed by an unrelated infection that sent him to the emergency room. Toward the end of the year, Carla was diagnosed with diabetes. Even after paying $501 a month for medical insurance, they ended the year owing $8,000 to 18 different providers, with creditors threatening to garnish John’s wages.