For Nearly 1/3 of Americans, Cost Still Delays Health Care

by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

Nearly one in three Americans delay health care because of cost, Gallup’s newly released Health and Healthcare poll shows. And they delay treatment most often for serious conditions. What’s more, the statistic has remained steady over the past decade—unmitigated by the Affordable Care Act.

Gallup’s poll results come on the heels of recent news coverage highlighting ACA patients’ struggles to access care and medications prescribed by their physicians. In November The Boston Globeprofiled Roger Anderson, a middle-class construction worker who forewent an MRI and twice-weekly physical therapy prescribed by his doctor because of his family’s $7,000 deductible. The article acknowledged that patients “often opt for high-deductible plans as a way to make their monthly premium payments more manageable. And they end up…putting off care.”

The New York Times struck a similar tone in its coverage of the growing out-of-pocket problem. Its article, “Many Say High Deductibles Make Their Health Law Insurance All but Useless” reported “sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.”

Further complicating matters, low-cost plans soon may be harder to come by. UnitedHealth signaled recently that it may leave the Affordable Care Act exchanges by 2017, a consideration announced after the company reduced its 2015 earnings projections by $425 million due to exchange-sold plans. USA Today noted that “If UnitedHealth drops out, consumers would lose one of the lowest-cost plans available in much of the country,” noting that more than half a million patients currently using the nation’s largest health plan would have to find new coverage.

Other insurers may follow suit. Aetna expects to lose money on its exchange plan business, the company has said, while Humana plans to discontinue several of its exchange options. Anthem noted that its exchange enrollment was lower than expected.

Many insurers have raised premiums to offset the cost of sicker patients and higher-than-expected health care utilization, exacerbating patients’ existing access challenges.

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