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COVID-19 is spurring consumers to adjust spending, PwC finds

Many have cut back on healthcare visits or are planning to do so, and a substantial number are considering curbing medication spending.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Many Americans are planning on adjusting what they spend on healthcare visits and pharmacy costs, due principally to the financial challenges inherent to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey.

About 32% of the 2,500 people surveyed said they're planning to adjust, or have already adjusted, their healthcare spending for visits due to the coronavirus, while 22% said the same about medication spending.

Consumers with complex chronic illness and those in healthy families were more likely than other groups to say they would adjust their spending on healthcare visits or medications. Delaying procedures, reducing spending on preventive care and chronic care, and decreasing adherence to medications may have negative long-term impacts on health status, PwC found, although the extent is unknown.

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WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

Of the 32% who said they already have or plan to adjust their spending on healthcare visits, consumers with a primary diagnosis of mental illness and those in healthy families were most likely to say they would skip an annual physical (47%). Consumers with chronic disease were the most likely to say that they already have or plan to skip elective procedures (30%) and recommended tests or screenings (29%).

Consumers with chronic illness were least likely to say they expected to increase their spending on healthcare visits (20%).

Getting consumers to come back for care may depend on how much trust the health system can build with them over the next few months. Helping newly unemployed consumers find insurance through Medicaid, Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges and other means should be a top priority, according to PwC.

Forty-two percent of consumers surveyed who are adjusting their spending said they would spend more because of better adherence. Consumers with complex chronic conditions were most likely to expect to spend more (47%). They were also most likely to say they would "stretch" the medication they had by skipping doses (30% compared to 22% overall).

Nine percent of those who are adjusting spending said they planned to stop taking their medications altogether to save money. Consumers with a primary diagnosis of mental illness were more likely than most other consumers to indicate that they planned to "think twice" about asking their doctor for a prescription the next time they get sick. About one-third of complex chronic consumers said they will consider more over-the-counter options.

Decreasing medication adherence could have negative long-term impacts on people's health, which may spur hospitals and health systems to pursue partnerships with retail pharmacies to leverage their experience in personalized health education, medication management and round-the-clock glucose monitoring.

THE LARGER TREND

Even those with suspected COVID-19 may delay care due to monetary concerns, West Health and Gallup found in an April survey. About one in seven Americans say they would avoid seeking medical care if they experienced key symptoms associated with COVID-19 out of fear of the potential cost, while another 6% – representing about 15 million people – report that they or a family member have been denied medical care for some other health issue due to heavy volume brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Even when asked specifically to suspect themselves infected with coronavirus, 9% would still avoid treatment, suggesting gaps in insurance coverage, poor finances or incomplete knowledge of the key symptoms of COVID-19.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com