Americans Are Going Hungry, Driving Less, and Skipping Medicine Over High Health Care Costs

Americans Are Going Hungry, Driving Less, and Skipping Medicine Over High Health Care Costs

Far too many Americans are making sacrifices due to the outrageous costs of health care in the United States, a new survey this week suggests. The findings estimate that nearly 100 million Americans have recently had to work around the prospect of pricier medical bills in some way, either by cutting back on other essentials like food, borrowing money, or outright avoiding their medical care.

Polling organisation Gallup conducted the survey in June 2022, in conjunction with the nonprofit organisation West Health. More than 3,000 American adults across all 50 states and Washington D.C. were questioned about their recent health care-related spending, among other things. More specifically, they were asked if they had taken one or more of several cost-saving measures due to higher health care costs in the last six months.

Overall, 38% of respondents said yes to at least one of these measures, which would be the equivalent of 98 million Americans. The most common measure people took was delaying medical care, which could include not paying for their prescription drugs (26%). But people also drove less (17%), cut back on utilities (10%), skipped meals (7%), or borrowed money to cover their bills (6%).

Americans across all income ranges reported some belt-tightening, but the gap was predictably large between the haves and have-nots: 62% of people with an annual income below $US24,000 ($33,317) reported needing to scrimp for their medical bills, compared to 19% of those with incomes over $US180,000 ($249,876). Many respondents weren’t too optimistic about the future, either, with 39% reporting that they were “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about being unable to pay for care in the next six months.

Of course, the U.S. health care system has long been more expensive and worse-performing than systems in other wealthy nations. But it’s possible that rising costs in general linked to inflation have only added to the burden as of late. The authors note that the poll was conducted the same month that the inflation rate rose to 9.1% — a high not seen in over 40 years.

“People have been making tradeoffs to pay for health care for years. Inflation has only made things worse as people are also now struggling with the high price of gas, food, and electricity,” said Timothy Lash, president of West Health, in a statement released Thursday.

While some aspects of the greater inflation problem may not have readily available solutions, Lash does note that there’s a huge legislative bill on the table that could relieve some of the longstanding issues with health care costs. Certain provisions currently within the Inflation Relief Act are intended to limit out-of-pocket expenses for those on Medicare, for instance, and would also provide the government more power to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

The bill as a whole has passed its greatest hurdle, having been agreed to in principle by Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, who have routinely blocked legislation backed by the party and White House in recent years. But the pharmaceutical industry is still lobbying hard against these specific provisions, so it’s no guarantee yet that they will be included. It’s likely that the bill will be voted on by the Senate over the weekend, so time will tell soon enough.