High health care costs force one-third of Americans to skip medical treatment

Even those with health insurance pass on receiving medical treatment because of the cost

As lawmakers and public health officials look to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., one potential obstacle that’s emerged is the high cost of medical care and a lack of insurance among some Americans.

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Nearly one in three American families, or 32 percent, have selected to not seek medical treatment -- including doctors visits, medications, vaccinations, annual exams and vision checks --  in the past year because of the cost, according to a study published Thursday by Bankrate.

“Health care costs, including the most significant stemming from an unexpected accident or illness, can inflict lasting financial damage,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “One way to guard against this is to save for emergencies. It is better to have that money in savings to try to avoid the added cost and the worry.”

DOES CORONAVIRUS MAKE A CASE FOR MEDICARE-FOR-ALL?

The virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, has been linked to 4,610 deaths, with about 125,600 cases reported worldwide, mostly in China. So far, there have been more than 1,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 32 deaths.

Medicare-for-all advocates, including presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have used the virus to make the case for universal health care coverage.

And in the past two years, the number of Americans without health insurance has increased amid the Trump administration’s legal attacks on the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. There are at least 27.9 million nonelderly individuals in the U.S. who lack insurance. A number of Americans said they don’t receive health care via their jobs, and one in five said they can’t afford it. Uninsured people are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventative care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases.

NUMBER OF UNINSURED AMERICANS RISES FOR FIRST TIME IN A DECADE

Even those with health insurance pass on receiving medical treatment because of the cost, according to the Bankrate study. Families with privately purchased plans were the most likely to have avoided medical care in the past year, at 44 percent. But about 34 percent of families who received coverage through an employer also admitted to not getting certain care because of the cost. Families on government-run programs like Medicare and Medicaid were the least likely to skip medical care, at 26 percent.

To cover the unexpected expenses, about one in nine families said they’ve had to take on substantial debt, while 9 percent had to borrow money from friends or family. Seven percent of Americans said they had to tap into their retirement savings, 6 percent found another job, 5 percent sold assets or personal belongings, 3 percent borrowed money from their home’s equity and 3 percent sought debt consolidation or declared bankruptcy.

“Health care costs are causing injury to Americans’ personal finances, which is why they’re elevating the issue as an urgent political priority,” Hamrick said. “The desire for change is one rare case where most are in agreement.”

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