April 10, 2019

How Americans are reacting to rising health care costs, in 5 charts

Daily Briefing

    U.S. residents in 2018 borrowed an estimated $88 billion to pay for needed health care, according to a Gallup and West Health survey released last week, the New York Times reports.

    West Health, a nonprofit seeking to lower health care costs, commissioned Gallup to conduct the survey. For the survey, Gallup conducted phone interviews from Jan. 14 to Feb. 20 with a random sample of 3,537 adults across the United States.

    Millions of US adults borrowed money to pay for health care

    Overall, 12% of respondents said they had borrowed money in the past year to pay for health care, including 11% of respondents with health insurance, the survey found. Based on those findings, the researchers estimated that, nationwide, about 1.6 million U.S. residents borrowed between $5,000 and $10,000 last year to pay for health care, and an estimated 2.7 million U.S. residents borrowed $10,000 or more last year to pay for health care.

    A majority of survey respondents said they believed they paid too much for their health care relative to the services they received. According to the survey:

    • 26% of respondents said they deferred treatment because of costs;
    • 23% said they cut back on household spending because of health care costs; and
    • 19% said they deferred purchasing medicine because of costs.

    When asked to choose between a hypothetical freeze on their health care costs or a 10% increase in their household incomes, 61% of respondents said they would choose to freeze their health care costs, the survey found.

    US adults concerned major health events could lead to bankruptcy

    Nearly 50% of respondents said they were concerned about a major health event resulting in personal bankruptcy, including respondents across various income levels. For example, 55% of respondents with annual incomes below $24,000 said they were "extremely concerned" or "concerned" about a major health event leading to bankruptcy, as well as 32% of respondents with annual incomes above $180,000.

    Respondents also expressed concerns over rising health care costs causing significant and lasting damage to the U.S. economy. According to the survey, 77% of respondents said they were concerned about the effect of increasing health care costs on the U.S. economy.

    US adults are not confident policymakers can lower health care costs

    Further, 69% of respondents said they are not confident elected officials will find a bipartisan solution to address rising health care costs.

    The survey showed that more than two-thirds of Democratic and Republican respondents similarly expressed a lack of confidence in elected officials being able to pass legislation that would lower health care costs.

    Majority of US adults are satisfied with their experiences in the US health care system

    Despite their concerns about high health care costs, 64% of respondents said they are personally satisfied with the U.S. health care system.

    However, 39% of respondents said they are broadly satisfied with how the U.S. health care system serves all U.S. residents, while 38% said they were not.

    Discussion

    Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, said, "When we're talking about health care and the debate right now, it usually bifurcates between the financial impact of health care or the health outcomes themselves, but those two things intersect at access," which can result in poor health outcomes.

    Lash noted that other countries spend less on health care than the United States and report better health outcomes. He said, "While there may be a great political divide in how highly Republicans and Democrats perceive the health care system at large, there is very little that separates the groups when it comes to the real-life consequences of the high cost of health care on their everyday lives" (Zraick, New York Times, 4/2; Daugherty, The Hill, 4/2; Gallup/West Health survey, 4/2).

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