In the good old days (last year and before), my view of the health insurance industry was… cbdfreakcouk… kind of academic. If asked to comment on the future of health care, I might spout CFP® jargon such as “the law of large losses” and “shared responsibility” to explain why I thought costs were so high, but care standards not always as lofty, and why I anticipated an eventual, near-complete transition of the industry to high-deductible health plans (HDHP).

Safely ensconced in a comprehensive health care policy (read: old-fashioned one that actually pays for health care services), that all seemed to make perfect sense. And now that I’ve become a member of the high-deductible crowd, it still pretty much makes sense in the abstract.

But the transition itself has been more than a little baffling, not to mention fraught with financial risk for the unwary. And, oddly, aspects of the experience bore more than a passing resemblance to high school. I hope you’re fortunate enough to never need to know any of this, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Math is required, and you’ll probably be working with a squishy data set. Ex: Getting consumers to care about health care costs is often touted as a good reason for higher deductibles. Well, yes, but in my experience, some medical offices aren’t yet equipped to answer the question “How much will it cost?” with anything resembling a straight answer.

At one place, I asked “What’s a visit cost? Like $100?” After looking at me like I had 2 heads and engaging in a lengthy consultation with the billing person, the response: “Well, the first visit is more. Then it depends on how many modalities are used & which ones. Each has its own price, and there may be a charge for materials used. And it depends on the insurance company as there may be a discount that applies, yada yada yada.” You guessed it, in the end it was “like $100.”