High costs have forced half of Americans to delay medical or dental procedures, survey finds

  • Researchers say it takes an average of 2.4 years for Americans to pay off medical or dental expenses.
  • One in four people admit to turning to crowdsourcing online for support.
  • 40% of Americans don’t have any money saved for medical emergencies.

NEW YORK — Suffering a medical emergency may be a physically painful experience for patients, but it’s downright paralyzing financially for many, too. In fact, some are forced to wait despite the need for immediate care. A new survey of 2,000 Americans over 18 found that half have delayed a medical or dental procedure because of the cost.

The survey, commissioned by DentalPlans.com, calculated the average cost of emergency medical care in the United States before insurance or deductions is $12,126.22. The average American, according to the survey, pays 49% of that bill out of pocket.

Researchers say patients needed an average of about 2.4 years to pay off their medical or dental expenses. The data showed that 34% of respondents who had a medical or dental emergency delayed payment or flat-out tried to escape the bill altogether. Another 25% took to the Internet to help pay their bills, setting up fundraising and crowdsourcing efforts.

Two in five participants admit they didn’t have any money saved for emergency medical care. Even so, 47% of Americans still aren’t setting any money aside, a number that balloons to 62% for those over 50. About half (48%) of those surveyed say that they just don’t have the money to spare, while 41% don’t view emergency medical savings as a financial priority. Another 14% say they’re already paying off previous medical bills.

“Accidents happen and being financially prepared for the unexpected can be a huge help, and stress reducer,” says Jenn Stoll, Chief Commercial Officer for DentalPlans.com, in a statement. “Find out what your medical and dental insurance covers, and what they don’t, and then determine affordable ways to close those gaps so you’re not left with a hefty bill. Whether saving money each month or joining a health or dental savings plan, your wallet and sanity will thank you later.”

Other methods patients took to raise the money for extreme medical expenses included strict budgeting (33%), starting a home business (24%), getting a second job (18%), or taking out a loan (17%).

Half of those over 50 plan to let Medicare cover any medical expenses, while a quarter say they’d count on Medicaid. But Stoll warns that’s not always a safe bet.

“Relying solely on Medicare can be risky because it doesn’t cover your whole health – dental, for instance, is typically not included and can be extremely costly without insurance. Coupling Medicare with dental insurance or a dental savings plan, which is an affordable alternative to traditional dental insurance, can provide you with peace of mind, knowing your whole body is protected,” she says. “While these plans are not insurance, they can save plan members between 10 and 60 percent on most procedures, including costly ones like root canals, implants and more. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to save on procedures Medicare does cover. And, you should clear it with your provider in advance, so you know exactly what to expect financially.”

As for the most common medical emergencies, dental issues lead the way. Almost 3 in 10 participants say they’ve suffered a chipped tooth, while a quarter unexpectedly lost a tooth. Twenty-three percent have had to go to the ER for stitches, while 21% have suffered broken bones. Trauma rounded out the top five, with 15% of respondents needing immediate care.

Some other findings from the survey:

Dentures/veneers – 27%
Trauma – 27%
Broken bone – 23%
Hip/knee replacement – 22%
Lost tooth – 20%
Root canal – 19%
Cavity – 13%
Chipped tooth – 12%
Stitches – 11%
Concussion – 11%

Cost – 45%
Time – 19%
Fear of bad news – 11%
Don’t like it – 11%
Travel – 8%

The survey was conducted by market research firm OnePoll in March 2019.

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