Half of Americans struggled to pay medical bills or delayed treatment

Many Americans have postponed or gone without some medical services in the past year, a KFF poll found. Members of minority groups and those with lower incomes are more likely to have trouble with medical bills.

Nearly half of all Americans said they have struggled to pay for healthcare costs over the past year, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

Many Americans are delaying taking care of health needs due to the cost, according to the KFF poll. Some are holding off on buying prescriptions. The poll also showed disparities in access to care among those with lower incomes and Black and Hispanic participants.

The KFF poll found 46% of those surveyed said it is very or somewhat difficult paying for medical costs not covered by health insurance. The poll also found 46% said they found it difficult to pay for dental care.

To put it in perspective, Americans said they were more likely to have trouble paying for medical bills than paying for their rent or mortgage (33%), utilities such as electricity and heat (30%), or food (25%).

Among those with health insurance, a little more than a quarter (27%) said they struggled to pay monthly insurance costs.

Postponing or going without

Overall, 51% of those surveyed said they delayed or went without some kind of healthcare service in the past year, such as a doctor’s appointment, dental visit, or vision services. But the numbers rose among those with lower incomes and members of minority groups.

The KFF poll found 63% of those with a household income under $40,000 delayed some kind of healthcare service. Meanwhile, 58% of Black respondents and 58% of Hispanic participants said they delayed care.

Many are putting off dental services, particularly those with lower incomes and members of minority groups.

The poll found 39% of all respondents said they delayed or went without dental care in the past year. But 50% of Black participants and 50% of those with less than $40,000 in household income delayed dental care. And 47% of Hispanic residents postponed visits to a dentist.

When it comes to visiting a doctor, about one in four (24%) delayed a visit or went without seeing a doctor in the previous year. The survey found 36% of Hispanic respondents held off on going to the doctor, along with 30% of those with incomes under $40,000.

Equity issues

Roughly three in 10 (29%) of those surveyed said they didn’t obtain a prescription drug because of the cost. The poll found 22% took an over-the-counter medication instead of a prescription drug, while 13% said they cut pills in half or skipped doses.

Those with lower incomes or lacking insurance were more likely to have trouble paying medical bills.

Nearly four in 10 (38%) of those in households earning less than $40,000 annually said they had problems paying medical bills in the past year, compared to only 10% of those in households with $90,000 or more in annual income.

Almost half of those without insurance (45%) said they have trouble paying medical bills over the past 12 months, while 23% of insured adults said they had difficulty with medical expenses.

The poll found 16% of those surveyed postponed vacations due to medical bills, while 15% cut spending on basic household items.

Health equity has been a major focus of President Joe Biden’s administration. 

The federal government is focusing on ways to reduce disparities in health outcomes among minority groups and those in underserved communities. The Biden administration is investing more money to diversify the nation’s physician workforce.

Health equity should remain one of the top trends to watch in 2022, according to a forecast from The Business Group on Health, an organization representing large employers.