High costs cause some Americans to skip needed care, survey shows

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by C x 2 via flickr.

Image by C x 2 via flickr.

More than 16 million privately insured Americans face significant financial hardships as a result of high medical bills, forcing some to go without food and others to burn through all of their savings, a new survey shows.

Out-of-pocket health care costs force 1 out of every 8 privately insured Americans to skip necessary medical treatment, according to the survey, Privately Insured in America: Opinions on Health Care Costs and Coverage.

For the survey, researchers at the AP-NORC Center interviewed 1,004 privately insured adults aged 18 to 64 between July 22 and September 3. Among the interviewees, 267 reported having high-deductible health plans. The study was done with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Concerns about the cost of care caused nearly 20 percent of privately insured Americans to skip doctor visits for sicknesses or injuries in the past year, and only 36 percent of respondents are confident they can pay for a major, unexpected medical expense, the survey shows. The effects of health care costs on personal finances were especially worrisome among those with high-deductible health plans, the survey shows.

Most privately insured Americans aged 18 to 64 say health care costs do not have a significant effect on their finances, the survey shows. It also suggests that most Americans in this age group are satisfied with their health plans and are not deterred from using their health benefits due to cost.

But about 25 percent of respondents worry about the financial consequences of a major unexpected medical expense such as a surgery or life threatening illness. Such worries caused 33 percent of respondents to cut back on entertainment, and 43 percent of respondents with high-deductible plans did so, as Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jennifer Agiesta reported for the Associated Press. Among survey respondents, 18 percent used up all or most of their savings, and 24 percent of those with high-deductible plans did so; 19 percent cut back on contributions to retirement savings, and 28 percent of consumers with high-deductible plans did so.

One other interesting finding from the survey was the fact that respondents found information about the quality of health care providers to be difficult to find. Also, respondents were distrustful of what information they found on quality, the survey shows.

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