Millions of Americans avoided doctor during pandemic due to costs: study

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Millions of Americans are risking their lives in a desperate bid to save money.

A new study of more than 3,700 US adults has revealed that 18% of them — or a staggering 46 million when applied to the total population of adults — avoided seeing a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic due to unemployment and the rising cost of health care.

Torn between caring for their physical and financial health, about the same number of people reported that they simply cannot afford medical attention they actually need, according to the poll by West Health research institute and Gallup.

The findings are even more revealing when viewed by race. While an average of 16% of white Americans ages 18 and older claim they could not afford health care right now if they needed it, the share is even larger for people of color: 29% of black and 21% of Hispanic or Latino adults.

Unemployed Americans were also twice as likely to skip a visit to the doctor at 38%. Currently, the US unemployment rate is stalled at 6.2%, leaving 10 million jobless. Since last April, however, 17 million jobs lost during the pandemic have since been recovered, according to Statista research, cited by Gallup.

At 30%, health care was ranked behind housing costs (51%), taxes (48%) and food (41%) as a financial burden on households, and followed by prescription drug costs (22%).

Meanwhile, 52% of Americans say they are “worried” that an adverse health event could destroy their finances and deplete their savings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life over the last year, and as we begin to emerge from the worst public health crisis in 100 years, we are left with another crisis that has never gone away: the high cost of health care,” said Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, in a statement. “Millions of Americans simply can’t afford health care and policymakers simply can’t continue to ignore this painful truth.”

Aside from health care, the survey found that Americans have been cutting back on a number of necessities and other quality-of-life indicators, such as food (12%), utility usage (9%), shopping (26%) and recreation (35%).

Survey authors suggest that their findings might explain why a vast majority of Americans agree with policies to cap the cost of prescription drugs (88%) and general health care (85%) under Medicare. Furthermore, many (60%) support proposals to “[make] Medicare available to everyone” — although that number reflects a stark divide down the party line with 93% of Democrats in agreement while just 19% of Republicans supported the idea.

“Our surveys consistently show that the high cost of health care is a significant worry for tens of millions of Americans and that these concerns have persisted throughout the course of the COVID era,” added Gallup senior researcher Dan Witters. “As the pandemic recedes and normalcy slowly returns to everyday life, anxiety over affording quality care appears likely to again become a primary issue for elected officials to address.”

In little over a year, the coronavirus has taken more than 550,000 American lives, and 2.8 million worldwide.

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