Brenda Bartlett, a factory worker in Nebraska, was so angry about $2,500 in medical bills she ran up using the coverage she got at work that she dropped insurance altogether.
"They don't give a rat's butt about people like me," she said.
Sue Andersen, burdened with nearly $10,000 in debt through her family's high-deductible plan, had to change jobs to find better coverage after learning she and her husband earned too much for government help in Minnesota.
"We are super middle class," she said. "How are we stuck with everything?"
Health insurance — never a standard protection in the U.S. as it is in other wealthy countries — has long divided Americans, providing generous benefits to some and slim-to-no protections to others.
But a steep run-up in deductibles, which have more than tripled in the last decade, has worsened inequality, fueling anger and resentment and adding to the country's unsettled politics, a Los Angeles Times analysis shows.