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August 9, 2022

The impact of rising health care costs, in 4 charts

Daily Briefing

    In the last six months, higher health care costs drove 38% of U.S. adults—an estimated 98 million Americans—to delay or forgo health care treatments, cut back on routine expenses, or borrow money to cover their medical expenses, according to a new poll conducted by West Health and Gallup.

    Infographic: The patient financial journey

    Study details and key findings

    For the study, West Health and Gallup surveyed 3,001 adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between June 2 and June 16. In June, health care inflation was half the overall national inflation rate at 4.5%.

    Overall, 38% of respondents said they had taken one or more measures to reduce household spending due to rising health care costs, including delaying or skipping medical care or medications, driving less, cutting utilities, skipping a meal, or borrowing money. Notably, 26% of people surveyed reported delaying or avoiding medical care or buying prescription drugs due to higher health care prices.

    Respondents in households that earned less than $48,000 annually were even more likely to make financial trade-offs because of health care costs. For example, 62% of respondents from households earning less than $24,000 a year, and 51% of respondents from households with an annual income between $24,000 and $48,000 took steps to cut household spending.

    Financial trade-offs were most common among lower-income households. However, 19% of respondents in households earning at least $180,000 annually said they took steps to reduce overall spending because of higher health care costs. This finding underscores the burden of high health care costs across a wide range of the population.

    The survey also evaluated how overall inflation is impacting American consumer behaviors. Overall, 59% of respondents said they were driving less, 30% said they were cutting back on utilities, and 21% said they had delayed or skipped medical care or prescription drugs.

    The survey found that those who cut spending in areas other than health care, such as food and utilities, were likely to cut health care spending as well.

    For instance, 59% of respondents who cut back on utilities also cut back on medical care and prescription drugs. In addition, 71% of respondents who skipped a meal, 60% of those who borrowed money, 55% of those who drove less, and 51% of those who took any of those measures also cut back on medical care and prescription drugs.

    "Inflation is hollowing out consumer spending habits across an array of areas," said Dan Witters, a senior researcher at Gallup. "What is found just under the surface is that after gas and groceries, the role of inflation in reducing the pursuit of needed care is large and significant. And the rising cost of care itself, which is originating from an already elevated level, is having an outsized impact on lessening other forms of spending, compounding the problem."

    The survey also evaluated Americans' concerns about being unable to pay for necessary care in the next six months. Overall, 39% of respondents said they were "extremely concerned" or "concerned" about being unable to pay for care, including 33% of Democrats, 44% of Republicans, and 42% of independents.

    The high cost of health care has disproportionately affected women and people of color. According to the survey, women are 17% more likely than men to be concerned about being unable to pay for care, and Black adults are 16% more likely than white adults to be concerned.

    "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 West Health president Timothy Lash. (Melillo, "Changing America," The Hill, 8/5; Witters, Gallup, 8/4; West Health press release, 8/4)

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