By Andrew Keshner
Healthcare in America is not getting high grades, and that’s putting it mildly.
More than two years since the pandemic highlighted the varied and acute challenges surrounding medical care in the U.S., a new survey reveals persistent challenges and stubbornly high costs.
Nearly half — 44% — assigned an overall grade of poor, a D grade, or failing, an F grade. That averages to a C minus.
That’s according to a poll from company Gallup and researchers at West Health, a family of non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C. They asked more than 5,500 people to grade the healthcare system on its costs, it capacity to equally deliver care to all patients, the quality of the care and more.
There were no high marks to be found anywhere in the new findings, but the research shows that lack of affordability is pulling down the grade-point average.
Three-quarters of people assigned either a D or an F to the cost of care. That’s a D minus average. Whether making less than $24,000 annually or more than $180,000, roughly three-quarters in all income demographics gave the D or F grade.
“When members of my family have needed surgeries or medications [they] have to really consider how much medical debt they’re willing to go into,” said one survey participant, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania woman. “Our healthcare system forces us to try and make calculations between financial security and health just because of how expensive things are.”
During June, more than one-quarter of people (26%) said they or a family member skipped a treatment in the past three months because they couldn’t afford the cost, nearly double the 14% who said the same in June 2021.
Some 13% of people said they couldn’t pay for needed medication, up from 7% in June 2021.
Women, Hispanic and Black survey participants were the most likely to say they’ve cut back on medical care and medication during the past 12 months in order to meet other costs, the authors noted.
When people delay or avoid treatment, the are most likely to skip a trip to the dentist, followed by a doctor’s visit.
“The inability to afford care, resulting in skipped treatments, could have a lasting impact on Americans’ health — a growing concern as rising inflation continues to force Americans to tighten their expenses,” Gallup and West Health researchers wrote. West Health is comprised of non-profit, non-partisan organizations focused on improving care and lowering patient costs.
At a time when all costs are rising, medical costs are no exception. The cost of living increased 8.3% in August , outpacing expectations. Within that overall number, the combined expenses comprising “medical care costs” increased 5.6% year over year. Within that category, health-insurance costs climbed more than 24% from the same point last year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ September inflation data release is due next week, Oct. 13.
Problems with cost and patient access to medical care stretch back for years, but Thursday’s research comes as more laws, rules and initiatives attempt to reduce costs.
For example, the “ No Surprises ” act launched this year, banning unexpected medical bills for out-of-network care. The country’s three major credit reporting companies, Equifax /zigman2/quotes/208789454/composite EFX -0.32% , Experian /zigman2/quotes/208623784/delayed EXPGY +0.63% and TransUnion /zigman2/quotes/209192458/composite TRU -0.99% , are wiping away paid medical collection debt on consumers’ credit reports.
Meanwhile, the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act has cost-containing provisions for beneficiaries of Medicare, and federal health insurance for people over age 65. For example, the law, starting next year, will link drug prices to the Consumer Price Index, and companies that raise prices faster than the index will have to pay rebates.
Starting in 2025, out-of-pocket costs are limited at $2,000 for Medicare beneficiaries.
Many survey participants, however, worried whether Medicare and Social Security will be available for them when they become eligible. Generally, Medicare coverage can start at age 65 and Social Security retirement benefits can start as early as age 62.
Two-thirds of people under age 64 said they were “worried” or “extremely worried” about whether Medicare would be available for them, and three-quarters of people age 62 and younger said the same about Social Security.
The worries, particularly about Social Security, are shared by many people . The projected depletion date for the Social Security trust fund is 2035.
Depletion would mean the capacity to cover 75% of the currently legislated benefit, explained MarketWatch columnist Alicia H. Munnell, director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.