Large Number of People Skipping Necessary Medical Care Because of Cost

About 40 percent of Americans report skipping a recommended medical test or treatment and 44 percent say they didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick or injured in the last year because of cost, according to a new national poll from NORC at the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute.

The February survey of more than 1,300 adults offers new insights into how Americans feel about the costs of healthcare and how they report those costs affect their medical decisions and personal finances. While $3.3 trillion was spent on healthcare in the U.S. in 2016 – 17.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product – the new national poll finds three-quarters of Americans do not think we get good value for what our country spends on healthcare.

These results are being presented today at the American Society on Aging 2018 Aging in America Conference in San Franciscoand will be webcast at 1 p.m. PST (free registration required).

“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, CA. “According to this survey, most Americans do not feel they are getting a good value for their healthcare dollars, and the rising cost of healthcare is clearly having a direct consequence on American’s health-and financial well-being.”

In the survey (download issue brief or topline results), about 30 percent said that over 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 percent vs. 33 percent). Those who reported skipping a recommended test or treatment were about two times more likely to fear getting sick (47 percent vs. 24 percent) and to fear the costs of care (60 percent vs. 27 percent).

“It’s shocking and unacceptable that medical bills strike more fear in the hearts of Americans than serious illness,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health. “Americans are paying more for healthcare than they should and getting less than they deserve. Bold action is required to lower the sky-high cost of healthcare. The very health and wealth of our nation and its people are at stake.”

The survey also revealed Americans are not only delaying but also going without recommended care such as tests, treatments and doctor visits. About one-in-three respondents report they did not fill a prescription or took less than the prescribed dose to save money. Dental care also suffered. Nearly half say they went without a routine cleaning or check up in the last year, and 39 percent 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 percent report borrowing money or increasing credit card debt, and 41 percent say they decreased contributions to a savings plan because of healthcare expenses.

Some healthcare bills came as a surprise to many Americans. Over half of respondents said they received a medical bill for something they thought was covered by their health insurance, and a similar proportion reported receiving a medical bill that was higher than they expected.  Strikingly, more than a quarter of respondents reported having a medical bill turned over to a collection agency within the past year.

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