WASHINGTON — An alarming report recently published by Gallup reveals that about 1 in 7 Americans (14%) would avoid seeking medical care if they experience COVID symptoms over fear of the potential cost. Perhaps just as disturbing: 6% of those surveyed — which equates to about 15 million people — report that they or a family member were turned away by a healthcare provider for problems unrelated to coronavirus because of heavy volume at medical centers during the pandemic.
The results came from a nationally representative sample of 1,017 American adults surveyed between April 1st and 14th.
When experiencing a fever and a dry cough, telltale COVID-19 symptoms, nearly 1 in 10 would avoid treatment (9%) even when they suspect they have been infected with the coronavirus. The researchers say this suggests widespread gaps in insurance coverage, poor financial situations, and/or incomplete knowledge of all the key symptoms of the virus.
Adults under 30, non-whites, people with a high school education or less, and people in households making less than $40,000 a year were the most likely to avoid care.
“Millions of Americans, even in the face of a disease that has brought a country to its knees, would forgo care due to the potential expense and still others may not be clear on the common symptoms of COVID-19,” says Tim Lash, the chief strategy officer of the West Health Institute, which commissioned the study, in a statement. “While physicians and healthcare workers are doing courageous and lifesaving work, the pandemic magnifies the longstanding perils and flaws of a high cost healthcare system in need of reform.”
People avoiding medical care for any reason is concerning for public health at large, as are the denials of care for non-COVID-related health problems, which millions of Americans have encountered.
Those living in the Northeast region of the U.S. are the most likely to report denial of care, at 11%. In the West, 8% have been denied care, along with 5% in the South and 3% in the Midwest. The researchers said this likely reflects the regional differences in COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations.
Race didn’t factor strongly into being denied care, according to the researchers, but income level had a huge effect. The survey found just 3% of those with an annual household income of more than $100,000 report being denied care because of healthcare workers being stretched too thin by COVID-19 treatment. Conversely, a disturbing 11% of households with incomes under $40,000 a year were denied care.
The survey didn’t identify the reasons why respondents were seeking medical attention. It’s possible they could have been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or symptoms related to another condition, or they could have attempted to receive routine treatments.
“These new findings align with previous research by West Health and Gallup on the impact of high healthcare costs in the U.S.,” says Dan Witters, a senior researcher at Gallup. “Last year, over 13% of respondents, representing more than 30 million Americans, reported having a friend or family member who died in the last five years after not being able to afford necessary care. Add to that the challenges associated with COVID-19, and Americans find themselves in a quagmire as many of them turn to a system they can’t afford or that can’t accommodate them.”
In a separate study that attempted to examine other aspects of rising healthcare costs, 66% of respondents said their prescription drug prices have increased either “a little” or “a lot” since 2017, the first year under the Trump Administration. In that respect, 31% felt that President Trump was doing “a great deal” or a “fair amount” to curtail drug prices, a slight improvement over the 27% who saw progress four months ago.
The rising numbers for Trump’s drug price progress came from surprising sources, with 6% more independents and 5% more Democrats seeing progress in this area. Republicans, meanwhile, saw less progress, declining in their approval ratings by 7%.
In late 2019, the House of Representatives passed HR 3, or the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drugs Costs Now Act. The legislation allowed federal regulatory agencies to negotiate with drug companies over drug prices. Three quarters of American adults supported putting it up for a vote on the Senate floor. The support extends to all political parties, with 72% of Republicans, 77% of Democrats, and 76% of independents agreeing.
The prescription drug prices numbers come from a nationally representative survey of 1,020 American adults conducted in late February.