Nearly half of all Americans skipped going to the doctor when they were ill or injured because they were more afraid of the damage to their finances than they were the costs to their health and well-being.
More than half of the people who answered a survey on their perception of healthcare said that they had received a bill that was higher than they had anticipated, and many had to drain their savings just to pay up.
Americans spent $3.3 trillion last year on healthcare, but the new research from the University of Chicago and nonprofit research organization West Health Institute suggests that many are still not getting the care they need.
The new study is just one in a spate of recent research detailing the high burden that health care places on Americans who, the report says, often find themselves choosing between medical costs and necessities like food.
For 40 percent of Americans, paying for medical care is more terrifying than a serious illness itself, new research from the University of Chicago and West Health Institute found
In 2016, the average person spent $10,345 on healthcare – accounting for just under one-fifth of the median income for a household.
Somehow, even while spending that much, Americans are still regularly skipping out on regularly scheduled visits to the doctor as well as medically necessary ones.
But Americans are more afraid to risk their financial well-being than their physical health, the new study’s findings suggest.
‘It was shocking to us that people were more afraid of the cost of the medical services than of the medical issue itself,’ said Dr Zia Agha, chief medical officer West Health Institute.
Researchers at the University of Chicago and West Health surveyed more than 1,300 adults about how often they visit the doctor, for what, and how much they spend on health care as compared to other needs and wants.
About 80 percent of those respondents had insurance, and yet ‘the care that people receive and the value they perceive from that care does not equate with what they pay,’ said Dr Agha.
For 44 percent of Americans, the solution to their fears over healthcare costs is to simply not take care of their health by skipping going to the doctor when they are sick or injured
This made it clear to him and the research team that ‘having insurance does not equate to not having the cost-burden of healthcare.’
Earlier research has shown that many people – particularly the elderly – will wait until the state of their health is dire enough to warrant a visit to an emergency clinic or hospital department rather than going to see doctors early or preemptively.
But in the new study, the survey respondents indicated that it is worse than that: they are skipping health care altogether, even when they are sick or injured.
Nearly 50 percent of Americans chose to simply forego a doctor’s appointment when they needed it.
Even when they went to see a medical professional, and were advised to get a treatment or a diagnostic test, 45 percent of Americans never followed through, and 30 percent either didn’t fill or didn’t take all of their prescription medications.
In the case of diseases like cancer or injuries, this significantly raises the risks that these people will have complications like infections, or will ultimately incur even greater costs because they will eventually require more extreme treatment for more intense symptoms.
But the consequences do not end with that individual if they are sick with something contagious like the flu or a bacterial infection, either of which can be passed on to others and become a public health concern.
Dental care is also neglected by 47 percent of Americans who had not had a regular cleaning and examination in the past year. Another 39 percent skipped the dreaded dentist chair even when they knew they needed treatment.
The new research shows that it does not matter how old someone is, Americans of all ages are neglecting their medical needs of all kinds to try to save money
Recent research has shown that dental care is not just key to keeping your teeth white, but is often an indicator of overall health and well-being, and not keeping up with your teeth cleaning is a risk factor for developing heart disease.
Unfortunately, what they save financially in the short-term may have dire consequences – for both their physical health and the state of their bank accounts – down the line.
But Americans’ immediate fears are far from unfounded.
More than half of the respondents said that, in the last year alone, they had gotten a surprise medical bill that they had thought would be covered insurance.
A quarter of those had been chased by collectors, and 36 percent of Americans spent all or nearly all of the money they had saved up on paying off a medical debt, the report says.
While trying to foot their steep medical bills, 30 percent of of the respondents were worrying about whether or not they could afford the basics, including housing, electricity and food.
Health insurance premiums have been rising steadily in recent years as provider companies cling to as much money as possible as health care costs rise and the future of government subsidy plans becomes increasingly uncertain.
Most experts predict this trend will only continue and accelerate as the population ages and the Trump administration hacks away at federal funding for healthcare.
Americans are feeling this fear too, as the new study confirms. Six out of every ten survey respondents said that they want their congressional representatives to focus their efforts on ensuring access to affordable 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 Dr Agha.
‘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,’ he added.
More than half of Americans received a ‘surprise’ bill for medical care, and most of them thought that their insurance would have covered the cost
Congress has spent years in near-paralysis in its attempts to reform healthcare, but Dr Agha says that there are more accessible solutions that need to be expedited.
‘We believe that there are really common sense solutions, like [giving] the ability to Medicare to control drug prices on behalf of American citizens’ he says.
This, coupled with more value-based – rather than volume-based – service fees and cost transparency could more quickly cut healthcare costs than could the kind of sweeping reform legislation that keeps getting stalled.
‘Healthcare is unique in that you’re receiving a service, but you don’t really know what it’s going to cost,’ Dr Agha says.
‘People should have an understanding of the cost of care and have alternatives and make these decisions with the guidance of their healthcare providers,’ he adds.
Instead, patients are left wondering what their medical needs will cost them down the line.
‘We see this all the time where something bad happens to somebody and they’re asking “oh my god, how will I pay for this?”
‘So it’s like a double-whammy: not only do I have a fracture or something, but I’m going to have to go into debt to take care of this problem,’ Dr Agha says.