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Inflation is putting Americans' health at risk, with nearly 2 in 5 struggling to pay for the care they need, according to a new West Health-Gallup poll.
About 38% -- which translates to an estimated 98 million Americans -- said rising health care prices had caused them to skip treatments, delay buying prescription drugs or pay for their care by borrowing money or cutting back on driving, utilities or food in the past six months.
The poll was conducted online in June, the same month inflation reached a 40-year high of 9.1%, pollsters noted. In June, health care inflation hit 4.5%.
"We've known for decades that health care has been a financial pain for people, and that people have had to make trade-offs," said Timothy Lash, president of West Health, a nonprofit health care advocacy group. "When you layer inflation on top of that, it's like putting gasoline on a fire."
The poll revealed that:
- One in 4 Americans (26%) have put off medical care or prescription purchases due to higher prices.
- About 17% drove less, 10% cut back on utilities and 7% skipped a meal to cover medical costs.
- About 6% had to borrow money to afford their care or pay medical bills.
What's more, inflation is influencing health care choices at every income level, the poll revealed.
More than half of U.S. households earning less than $48,000 a year have had to curb spending due to higher health care prices, results showed.
But nearly 20% of households pulling in more than $180,000 a year also have been forced to cut back, the poll found.
Women are more worried than men about medical costs, 42% to 36%. Lash said that probably reflects both the gender income gap and women's tendency to use health care more often than men.
These new results jibe with polling performed in the spring by the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Lunna Lopes, a KFF senior survey analyst for public opinion and survey research.
"We asked earlier this year if they or another family member had not gotten a test or treatment that was recommended by a doctor because of cost," Lopes said. "We found about a third of adults say that was the case in the past 12 months. And likewise, 4 in 10 adults say that they've put off or postponed getting health care they needed because of the cost."
Inflation likely has made things even harder on American families, she said.
"There's only so many dollars that people have to spend," Lopes said. "When they look at where to cut or potentially reduce spending, that's when you see people making these decisions of maybe not getting the health care that they need, because that's an additional expense that they'll have to budget into their monthly finances."
But Lash said the fact that health care costs are pinching people at every economic level and of every political stripe could make it more likely that policymakers will do something about it.
"It crosses party lines, with Republicans being more worried than Democrats," he said. The poll found that 44% of Republicans were concerned about their ability to cover needed health care costs over the next six months, compared with 33% of Democrats and 42% of independents.
"And so, in this sort of environment heading into the midterm elections, there's legislation right now on the table in Congress to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies," Lash said.
"That would have a very significant impact over a six-year period on the cost of prescription drugs. My hope would be, with voters energized on this issue, that that puts pressure on our elected officials," he said.
The nationwide poll was conducted online June 2-16 with 3,001 adults. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
SOURCES: Timothy Lash, MBA, president, West Health, San Diego; Lunna Lopes, MSc, senior survey analyst, public opinion and survey research, Kaiser Family Foundation, Oakland, Calif.; West Health-Gallup poll, Aug. 4, 2022
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