Americans Putting off Medical Treatment in Record Numbers
A stunning indictment of U.S. health-care system in one chart–
Americans are putting off medical treatment in record numbers because of cost, Gallup data shows.
By Christopher Ingraham Reporter
Dec. 10, 2019
One quarter of American adults say they or a family member has put off treatment for a serious medical condition because of cost, according to data released this week by Gallup. That number is the highest it’s been in nearly three decades of Gallup polling.
An additional 8 percent have made the same choice for less serious ailments, the survey showed. That means a collective 33 percent of those polled have prioritized financial considerations over their health, tying the high set in 2014.
The report also shows a growing income gap in cost-related delays. In 2016, for instance, one-fourth of U.S. households earning less than $40,000 a year reported cost-related delays, vs. 13 percent for households making more than $100,000. In 2019, the rate of cost-related delays among poorer households shot up to 36 percent, while the rate for the richer group remained at 13 percent.
Gallup cautions that the Trump presidency may be influencing these numbers on a partisan level: From 2018 to 2019, the share of Democrats reporting cost-related delays for serious conditions jumped from 22 percent to 34 percent. Among Republicans, the year-over-year increase was more subdued, from 12 percent to 15 percent.
Gallup data also show Democrats (31 percent) self-report higher rates of preexisting conditions than Republicans (22 percent).
“Whether these gaps are indicative of real differences in the severity of medical and financial problems faced by Democrats compared with Republicans or Democrats’ greater propensity to perceive problems in these areas isn’t entirely clear,” according to Gallup’s Lydia Saad. “But it’s notable that the partisan gap on putting off care for serious medical treatment is currently the widest it’s been in two decades.”
Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Survey underscores the severity of the health-care spending problem. In 2019, 82 percent of covered workers must meet a deductible before health-care coverage kicks in, up from 63 percent a decade ago. “The average single deductible now stands at $1,655 for workers who have one,” according to KFF, “similar to last year’s $1,573 average but up sharply from the $826 average of a decade ago.”
Deductibles have surged 162 percent since 2009, data show — more than six times the 26 percent climb in earnings over the same period.
There are many factors driving up the cost of care for most American families. Administrative costs are a big part of the issue: Health insurance is largely a for-profit industry, meaning insurance companies and their shareholders are reaping a percentage of your deductibles and co-pays as profit.
Many hospitals, too, are raking in profits. In recent years, surprise billing practices and outrageous markups for simple drugs and services have drawn the ire of lawmakers looking for ways to reduce health-care spending.
Physician pay is another significant expense. The Commonwealth Fund, a health-care research group, estimates American doctors earn “nearly double the average salary” of doctors in other wealthy nations. The American Medical Association, a trade group representing doctors, has a long history of opposing efforts to implement European-style single-payer health-care systems in the United States.
The American health-care system, in other words, works pretty well for the powerful players in the health-care industry. Hospitals and insurance companies are reaping significant profits. Doctors are earning high salaries. But what are the rest of us getting in return for our ever-growing co-pays and deductibles?
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an answer, and it’s an indictment of our health-care system: The United States is in the midst of the longest sustained drop in life expectancy in at least 100 years. Relative to other wealthy countries, lives in America are short and getting shorter.
The disparities domestically are perhaps even more shocking: In the nation’s wealthiest places, where the high cost of modern health care remains within relatively easy reach, life expectancies are literally decades longer than in America’s poorest places.
As health care becomes more expensive and economywide inequalities more pronounced, these disparities in life span are likely to get worse — and the share of Americans skipping out on much-needed medical care only likely to grow.