It goes without saying that if you have a serious illness, or are dealing with a chronic illness, it will be harder for you to improve, or even maintain, your health if you cannot afford doctor visits, medications, tests, and other healthcare expenses. Unfortunately, this is happening all too often in the US as many patients struggle with the high cost of healthcare.
What’s the impact of the high cost of healthcare in the US?
Certainly, it’s easy to understand why medical debt is linked to decreased access to healthcare. When patients skip or delay care it not only impacts their current health, but it can also lead to deteriorating health and higher healthcare costs down the road as their medical conditions worsen when they are left untreated.
Additionally, out of pocket expenses, including insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and the costs of uncovered services, can easily and quickly put a patient into financial trouble and medical debt.
It’s a shame that many Americans may find themselves in a position where they have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.
Many Americans worry about the high cost of healthcare.
There is no doubt about it – many US adults worry about their ability to afford the high cost of healthcare. In fact, recent surveys show that many people make decisions about their healthcare based on the financial concerns of possible medical bills.
Below are the results from 4 surveys of American adults.
In a 2021 survey by TransUnion Healthcare, 35% of people who have outstanding medical bills said those bills deterred them from seeking healthcare in the past 12 months.
And in a 2021 survey by Patientco, 1/3 of patients state they avoid unnecessary healthcare due to financial concerns.
A 2021 survey by West Health and Gallup found that 18% of US adults (about 46 million people) state they would be unable to pay for quality healthcare.
Additionally, a 2018 survey by 20|20/CarePayment found the majority of respondents struggle, or will struggle, to cover their medical bills:
- 61% of Americans have no money saved for their healthcare expenses.
- 64% report they have avoided or delayed medical care in the last year due to expected costs.
Health plan deductibles leave many with unaffordable healthcare bills.
Out of pocket costs for patients continues to rise, in many cases due to the widespread use of high deductible health plans (HDHPs).
A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average deductible for those with HDHPs is $2,100 for an individual, and $4,364 for a family. People with a non-HDHP have a lower deductible – with average deductibles of $1,478 for an individual.
Americans worry they can’t afford their plan’s deductible. For example, responses to the 20|20/CarePayment survey showed:
- 69% reported that their deductible was at least “somewhat difficult” to afford.
- 22% stated it was “very difficult” or “impossible” to afford their deductible.
To learn more about the impact of HDHPs on care, read our Are High Deductible Health Plans Keeping Patients From Getting Care?
Money plays a big role in healthcare decisions.
In the 2021 survey by West Health and Gallup, 18% of respondents reported that someone in their household skipped care they needed for cost reasons in the prior 12 months. (Note this time period covers roughly the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Furthermore, responses to the 20|20/CarePayment survey demonstrate that money concerns dictate health decisions:
- 44% of people would not receive needed medical care, even if it put their health at risk, if they would have to spend more than $500.
- Of those who reported delaying or avoiding medical care at least once in the last year due to costs (64% of total surveyed):
- 23% avoided or delayed follow up care after an inpatient hospital stay.
- 18% avoided or delayed a wellness visit to a doctor.
- 12% avoided or delayed prescribed rehabilitation or therapy after a surgery or procedure.
Finally, the Ipsos/Amino survey found that many avoid doctor visits to save money:
- 19% reported that not going to the doctor is their main strategy to avoid paying high medical bills.
- 56% avoid the doctor altogether.
High healthcare bills create fear and stress.
The Ipsos/Amino survey illustrates how much stress the high cost of healthcare causes patients:
- 53% think a serious illness diagnosis is just as bad as getting a large medical bill they can’t afford.
- An additional 10% think getting a large medical bill is actually worse than a serious illness.
Is there help for patients who can’t afford high healthcare bills?
Fortunately, there are a few options available for patients who struggle to pay high healthcare bills – read below to learn more.
Charity Care programs.
The US government requires nonprofit hospitals to have Charity Care programs that can cover some or all of your hospital bill if you qualify. If you or your loved one received care at a nonprofit hospital, search online with the hospital name and the phrase “patient financial assistance”.
For more information on these programs, and how to take advantage of them, read Tips for Handling Medical Bills.
Zero-interest payment plans.
If you owe money to a hospital or doctor, ask them if they offer any kind of zero interest payment plan, such as CarePayment (CP), which will allow you to pay off your debt in a manner that is manageable for you.
A recent study compared people using CP to manage their hospital-related healthcare debt to those who did not use CP. The results are encouraging. Researchers found that when compared to others with medical debt, people who use CP were significantly less likely to skip preventive care screenings due to the expense.
In addition, CP users were less likely to:
- Not fill a prescription due to cost.
- Skip or avoid needed medical tests and care due to cost.
- Have a medical problem but not go to a doctor/clinic.
- Struggle to pay for household necessities.
- Delay education or career plans because of medical bills.
Patients using CP also reported improved social outcomes. 26.5% non-CP users reported difficulties paying for necessities (such as food or heat) due to their medical bills in the last two years; only 14.4% of patients with CP reported similar problems.
Unfortunately, CP and similar programs are not available at all hospital and doctor practices and currently don’t cover prescription drugs.
Want to learn more about coping with the high cost of healthcare?
Read these blog posts provide tips for coping with the high cost of healthcare:
NOTE: I updated this post on 11-29-21.