More patients are delaying serious medical care access because of rising out-of-pocket healthcare costs than ever before.
One-quarter of American families say they have delayed medical treatment for a serious medical condition because of high out-of-pocket healthcare costs, up 6 percentage points from last year’s responses, according to a Gallup poll.
An additional 8 percent of respondents said they or a family member delayed medical treatment for a less serious condition due to costs. This brings the total number of Americans delaying medical treatment because of costs up to 33 percent, the highest this trend has been since 2014.
“Such delays in medical treatment, whether for injuries, illnesses or chronic conditions, can have significant implications for the economy and healthcare system, but also the political climate,” Gallup poll wrote of the results. “One indicator of the stress that delayed care can put on the healthcare system is the use of emergency departments.”
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“While that may reflect many factors, including the aging of the population and the number of Americans living in close proximity to hospitals, it may also be indicative of a greater need for emergency care due to lack of routine care,” Gallup added.
These numbers are a far cry from healthcare affordability nearly three decades ago. Gallup first polled Americans about healthcare access and cost-related barriers in 1991, at which time 22 percent of respondents said they had delayed care due to costs. Eleven percent said they delayed care for a serious condition.
Those figures remained consistent in 2001 when Gallup circled back to survey about healthcare cost barriers again. And since then, the polling firm has asked respondents about their healthcare costs and care barriers each year, revealing a largely upward trend in the number of individuals putting off care access.
In the early- and mid-2000s, about one-quarter of families said high healthcare costs led them to delay any type of healthcare access, regardless of symptom severity. Starting in around 2006, that number has reached the low 30 percent threshold.
In 2001, only about 12 percent of Americans said they were delaying medical care for serious symptoms due to cost. By 2006 that number rose to 19 percent and has reached its highest level yet this year.
These numbers are exacerbated among individuals with low incomes, the poll showed. Thirty-six percent of low-income patients — households making $40,000 annually — said they skipped treatment for serious health symptoms this year, up 13 percentage points from last year. This rate was flat or within a statistically insignificant range among middle- and high-income families.
And as a result, there is a 23-percentage point gap between the number of individuals delaying serious medical care among the top and bottom income households this year.
This chasm is getting increasingly large, Gallup noted. Between 2008 and 2015, the average care access gap came in at about 17 percentage points, but narrowed to 11 percentage points in the years following Affordable Care Act implementation between 2015 and 2018.
This year is the first in which the gap between low- and high-income patient care access is so vast.
Furthermore, these figures are exacerbated among households with at least one family member living with at least one pre-existing condition. The rate of delayed medical care among this population is up 13 percentage points since last year, the Gallup poll stated.
Conversely, there is very little change in the rates of delayed medical care among adults without a pre-existing condition between 2018 and 2019, coming in at 11 and 12 percent, respectively.
Insurance coverage and type have remained consistent between the two years, the poll administrators pointed out, suggesting that changes in payer coverage did not contribute to the change in delayed care.
Most medical experts agree that high healthcare costs are to blame for increasingly out-of-pocket patient responsibility and high healthcare spend. Regardless of the roots, Gallup suggests that more policy is needed to address healthcare affordability and accessibility.
“From an economic perspective, delayed care can have a range of negative effects, including reduced workplace productivity in the short-term, and increased healthcare costs and in the long-term — costs that ultimately burden the federal budget which has ripple effects on the economy,” the poll results concluded.
Source: Patient Engagement Hit