High Costs Force Americans to Skimp on Needed Medical Care

March 31, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Boomers & Older | Financial Services | Pharma & Healthcare

Nearly one-third (28%) of US adults say they had a specific medical problem in the past year but did not see a doctor because the cost was too high, and one-fifth (22%) who did visit a doctor did not fill a prescription because of the expense, according to a recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay Poll.


The survey also found that Americans were even more likely to steer clear of the dentist because of the expense. More than one-third (34%) who needed dental care did not see a dentist in the past 12 months because of high cost.

Among the subset of Americans who don’t have medical insurance, the numbers for “non-compliance” are even higher, the study found. More than half (55%) of the uninsured did not see a dentist and 51% did not see a doctor when needed (vs. 30% and 24% among those with insurance, respectively).

Other findings from the poll:

  • 78 percent of adults with health insurance worry about paying more for their medical care. Those ages 45-64 years old are most worried (56%), whereas the younger generation (ages 18-34) are least worried (37%).


  • Only 8% of Americans are not worried about having to pay more for their health care or health-care insurance.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all insured adults say they’re worried about how they can afford to pay for medical care and prescription drugs, with that number rising to 76% among people aged 45-54. Even among those ages 65+ – most of whom are eligible for Medicare – 62% say they worry about paying for the care they need.
  • In efforts to cut down on medical expenses, 14% of the insured and 19% of the uninsured took a medication at a lower dose than that recommended by a doctor.
  • Dental care took the biggest hit: 51% of the uninsured and 30% of the insured skipped necessary dental care over the past year because of financial concerns.

Non-Compliance Rises with Age

Consistent with these findings, the survey found that those ages 45-54 years old are most likely to be non-compliant with their doctor’s advice because of the cost of care, and not following doctors’ orders increases among those without insurance.

Harris reported that these high levels of non-compliance because of cost remain similar to 2007 and 2008 results. For example, in 2007 and 2008, 21% and 22%, respectively, did not fill a prescription because of cost. The percentage of those who took a medication less often than directed has been steady since 2007 (19% in 2007, 17% in 2008, and 18% in 2009).

US healthcare costs have grown to $2.5 trillion annually and the number of uninsured now stands at approximately 46 million people, Harris said.? The company acknowledged plans by the government to attempt to tackle the problem.

“Unfortunately, health care reform, however effective and however quickly it is implemented, is not going to happen fast enough to address the financial problems of those who cannot afford needed care now,” said Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll. “However, it may ease their worries about the future.”

About the survey: The annual Harris Interactive/Healthday poll was conducted online within the United States between February 25-27, 2009 among a national cross section of 2,078 adults ages 18+.


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