Many Americans are skipping healthcare because of costs

March 28, 2018

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but high costs also are discouraging U.S. patients from seeing their physicians, based on new research findings.

About 40% of Americans report skipping a recommended medical test or treatment—and 44% say they didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick or injured in the last year—because of cost, based on findings of a national poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute.

The February poll of more than 1,300 adults—released on March 26—offers new insights into how Americans feel about the price of healthcare and how they report those charges affect their medical decisions and personal finances.

While $3.3 trillion was spent on U.S. healthcare during 2016—equal to 17.9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)the new national poll finds that three-quarters of Americans do not think they are receiving good value for what our country spends on healthcare.

“The high cost of healthcare has become a public health crisis that cuts across all ages as more Americans are delaying or going without recommended medical tests and treatments,” said Zia Agha, MD, chief medical officer at the West Health Institute, a nonprofit applied medical research organization based in San Diego. “…The rising cost of healthcare is clearly having a direct consequence on American’s health-and financial well-being.”

About 30% of respondents reported said, that over the course of the last year, they had to choose between paying for medical bills or basic necessities like food, heating or housing.

But people say they are not only facing tough choices; they are scared. More people fear the medical bills that come with a serious illness than fear the illness itself (40% versus 33%). Those who reported skipping a recommended test or treatment were about two times more likely to fear getting sick (47% versus 24%) and to fear the costs of care (60% versus 27%).

The survey also revealed that Americans are not only delaying—but also going without—recommended care such as tests, treatments and doctor visits. About one-in-three respondents report that they did not fill a prescription or took less than the prescribed dose to save money.

Dental care also suffered. Nearly 50% say they went without a routine cleaning or check-up in the last year, and 39% say they did not go to the dentist when they needed treatment.

More than half of survey respondents report serious financial consequences due to the costs of healthcare. Thirty-six percent say they have had to use up all or most of their savings; 32% report borrowing money or increasing credit card debt; and 41% say they decreased contributions to a savings plan because of healthcare expenses.

Strikingly, more than 25% of respondents reported having a medical bill turned over to a collection agency within the past year.

Research contact: tpingersoll@westhealth.org

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