Nearly 6 in 10 Americans skipped or delayed health care over past year due to cost

June 12, 2012, 1:45 p.m.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans are skipping or delaying medical care because they can't afford it, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey. (Credit: Churl Han/Flickr Creative Commons)

Americans are having problems paying for medical care – and they're making some pretty unhealthy decisions in order to make ends meet.

The latest numbers from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Health Security Watch survey show that more than a quarter of Americans had trouble paying the medical bills over the past year, while nearly six in 10 (58 percent) reported skipping or postponing care in the same timeframe because it was just too expensive.

Kaiser's Health Security Watch tracks the public's health care-related worries and problems and looks at exactly who is most likely to report these kinds of problems. The report notes that many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are intended to improve access to and affordability of health care – but also that most of these provisions don't come into effect until 2014.

And even that's assuming the legislation makes it that far. The constitutionality of the ACA is currently under review in the Supreme Court, and a decision on whether the law or part of the law will be struck down is expected sometime this month.

A closer look at the 58 percent who forewent or postponed medical treatment because of the cost is revealing:

– Among the uninsured, more than 8 in 10 said they'd delayed or skipped medical care in the past year; 55 percent of those with insurance said the same thing.

– In households that earned less than $40,000 per year, 72 percent delayed or skipped care; 54 percent of households that make between $40,000 and $90,000 annually did the same. Even in households that earn more than $90,000 per year, 38 percent forewent care to save money over the year.

– 77 percent of those in poor health delayed or skipped care, while nearly half of those in excellent health did the same.

– Those between 30 and 49 years old were the mostly likely age group to skip or postpone medical care.

– Women were more likely to skip or delay – 64 percent of them, compared to 52 percent of men. Latinos were the ethnic group most likely to do the same – 69 percent, compared to 58 percent of black people and 55 percent of white people.

Notably, making upward of $90,000 annually, being in excellent health and having health insurance are not guarantees that a person will receive or request the medical care she or he needs. The survey also reported that:

– 26 percent had problems paying their medical bills.

– In "an effort to allay costs": 38 percent used home remedies or over-the-counter medication rather than seeing a doctor; 25 percent skipped a medical test or treatment; 24 percent didn't fill a prescription; eight percent had problems getting mental health care.

– 38 percent are "very worried" about income not remaining commensurate with rising health care costs; 25 percent feel the same way about being able to afford the health care services they think they need; another 20 percent are very worried about losing their coverage completely.

– Among people between the ages of 18 and 64, 52 percent with private insurance say their premiums have been going up; more than two-thirds of those with individual health insurance say theirs have gone up.

– Paying for health care is a burden for 63 percent of the privately-insured, 61 percent of those with employer-sponsored insurance and 76 percent of those who purchase their own coverage.

The survey, which polled 1,218 people, can be read in full here.

Photo by Churl Han via Flickr Creative Commons.

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