Inflation has many Americans cutting back on health care prices.
- One in four adults are skipping care or medicine due to rising costs
- Two-fifths are concerned about affording needed care in next six months
- Women under 50 are disproportionally forgoing care and prescription drugs
Inflation is putting Americans’ health at risk, with nearly two in five struggling to pay for the care they need, according to a new West Health-Gallup poll.
About 38 percent—which translates to an estimated 98 million Americans—said rising health care prices had caused them to skip treatments, delay buying prescription drugs, or pay for their care by borrowing money or cutting back on driving, utilities, or food in the past six months.
The poll was conducted online in June, the same month inflation reached a 40-year high of 9.1 percent, pollsters noted. In June, health care inflation hit 4.5 percent.
“We’ve known for decades that health care has been a financial pain for people, and that people have had to make trade-offs,” Timothy Lash, president of West Health, a nonprofit health care advocacy group, told HealthDay. “When you layer inflation on top of that, it’s like putting gasoline on a fire.”
The poll revealed that one in four Americans (26 percent) have put off medical care or prescription purchases due to higher prices. About 17 percent drove less, 10 percent cut back on utilities, and 7 percent skipped a meal to cover medical costs. Furthermore, about 6 percent had to borrow money to afford their care or pay medical bills.
Inflation is influencing health care choices at every income level, according to the results of the survey. More than half of U.S. households earning less than $48,000 a year have had to curb spending due to higher health care prices, results showed. But nearly 20 percent of households pulling in more than $180,000 a year also have been forced to cut back.
Women are more worried than men about medical costs (42 versus 36 percent). Lash said that probably reflects both the gender income gap and women’s tendency to use health care more often than men.
One in Four Americans Have Skipped Treatment
Overall, 26% of adults report delaying or avoiding medical care or purchasing prescription drugs in the prior six months due to higher healthcare prices. This rises to 43% among adults in lower-income households (those making less than $24,000 annually).
The survey found that those who are cutting spending on non-healthcare-related expenses — including food, gas and electricity — are substantially more likely to be cutting spending on healthcare as well. For example:
- Of those who cut back on utilities, 59% also cut back on medical care and medicine.
- Of those who skipped a meal, 71% also cut back on medical care and medicine.
- Of those who borrowed money, 60% also cut back on medical care and medicine.
- Of those who drove less, 55% also cut back on medical care and medicine.
- Of those who did any of the above, 51% also cut back on medical care and medicine.
Inflation in General Is Curbing Consumer Spending
Increased prices nationwide have also affected consumer spending habits over the prior six months. Three-fifths of adults (59%) report driving less and 30% report cutting back on utilities because of the higher prices of goods in the U.S. One in five (21%) report delaying or avoiding medical care or purchasing prescription drugs because of inflation in general — a similar percentage to the cutback based on healthcare inflation.
The effect of inflation exacerbates an already significant issue for millions of Americans struggling to pay for healthcare and medicine. Prior findings from the 2021 West Health-Gallup Healthcare Study showed that an estimated 18% of adults, or about 46 million people, could not afford needed care if they required it today and that 7% of Americans have been unable to pay for prescribed drugs in the prior three months.
Healthcare is not at the forefront of Americans’ minds when asked which expenses they expect to rise most in the next six months. Gas leads this list, chosen by 43%, followed by food (34%). Healthcare, in contrast, is picked by only 3% of respondents.
Republicans, Independents More Concerned About Healthcare Affordability
With 38% of Americans cutting back on key household expenses due to rising healthcare costs, concerns about being unable to pay for needed care in the next six months continue to run high. Overall, 39% report being “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about being unable to pay for care, including 33% of Democrats, 44% of Republicans and 42% of independents. And, as found in prior West Health-Gallup research, women and people of color are disproportionately affected by the high cost of care. Women are 17% more likely than men to report concern, and Black adults are 16% more likely than White adults to do so.
In 2021, 42% reported being “very concerned” or “concerned” about being able to pay for healthcare via a similarly worded question framed around “the next 12 months.”
Little Confidence Exists in Federal and State Governments to Curtail Costs
Irrespective of race, gender, income or political identity, Americans hold little confidence in their elected representatives in Congress or in their own state government to slow rising costs.
Just 6% are “somewhat” or “very confident” in their congressional representatives, while 59% are “not at all confident” and another 35% are “not too confident.” Men are more pessimistic than women, and men under the age of 50 are particularly so, with 70% reporting that they are not at all confident. And while Republicans and independents report elevated levels of concern about future healthcare affordability, across all three political identity groups, more than nine in 10 are not at all confident or not too confident in their elected representatives to lower the cost of healthcare.
When asked the same question in the context of their state government rather than members of Congress, Americans are only marginally less pessimistic, with 55% reporting that they are not at all confident and 11% saying they are very or somewhat confident that action to reduce costs will occur. White and Hispanic adults account for the slightly less negative views, with 10% and 12%, respectively, reporting that they are very or somewhat confident — about double the rates measured for members of Congress.
The latest West Health-Gallup research on the U.S. healthcare system adds to a growing body of data showing how Americans are attempting to cope with the high cost of care in a broadly inflationary environment. Healthcare inflation, which stood at 4.5% in June 2022, is lagging overall inflation, which spiked to 9.1% in June, a new 40-year high primarily because of rising prices for gas, food and rent.
Inflation has not yet fully hit healthcare prices due to prenegotiated contracts with insurers and providers for 2022, but inflation is likely to impact prices later in the year — something that consumers may not fully appreciate given the mere 3% that cite healthcare as the service expected to rise in price the most in the next six months.
However, unlike food, gas, housing and utilities, healthcare costs have been on the rise for decades and, independent of inflation, healthcare prices start at a much higher level. According to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), launch prices for new drugs increased by 20% per year from 2008 to 2021, amounting to a 10-fold increase in just over a decade.
The research also underscores the extent to which Americans view healthcare through a partisan prism. Republicans (and, notably, independents) are somewhat more concerned than Democrats about being able to pay for needed healthcare in the coming months, though the consequences of high healthcare prices seem to affect all political groups the same and Democrats are more motivated to vote based on this issue. As such, this may have an impact on voting patterns in coming elections — but voters of all party affiliations have little faith in either Congress or their state government to rein in prices in the coming months. For elected officials, these new results detailing the struggles of Americans may well serve as a call to action and an opportunity to prove the public wrong.