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A large racial divide exists in the concern over ability to pay for COVID-19 treatment

Nonwhite adults say they're either "extremely concerned" or "concerned" about the potential cost of care.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

People of color are far more likely to worry about their ability to pay for healthcare if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to a new survey from nonprofit West Health and Gallup. 

By a margin of almost two to one (58% vs. 32%), nonwhite adults report that they are either "extremely concerned" or "concerned" about the potential cost of care. That concern is three times higher among lower-income than higher-income households (60% vs. 20%).

The data come from an ongoing survey about Americans' experiences with and attitudes about the healthcare system. The latest findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 1,017 U.S. adults interviewed between June 8 and June 30.

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There's also a disturbing trend when it comes to medication insecurity. Overall, 24% of U.S. adults say they lacked money to pay for at least one prescribed medicine in the past 12 months, an increase from 19% in early 2019. Among nonwhite Americans, the burden is growing even more quickly. Medication insecurity jumped 10 percentage points, from 21% to 31%, compared with a statistically insignificant three-point increase among white Americans (17% to 20%).

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

All of this results in what Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, called a "significant and increasing racial and socioeconomic divide" in Americans' views on the cost of healthcare and the impact it has on their lives. When polling started in 2019, one in five Americans were unable to pay for prescription medications within the past 12 months. That number now stands at one in four. The bottom line is that the situation is getting worse.

Amid broad concern about paying for the cost of COVID-19 or other medical expenses, health insurance benefits are likely more important than ever to U.S. workers. The survey found that 12% of workers are staying in a job they want to leave because they are afraid of losing healthcare benefits, a sentiment that is about twice as likely to be held by nonwhite workers as white workers (17% vs. 9%).

However, Americans step across racial lines in their overwhelming support for disallowing political contributions by pharmaceutical companies, and for government intervention in setting price limits for government-sponsored research and a COVID vaccine.

Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults (89%) think the federal government should be able to negotiate the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine, while only 10% say the drug company itself should set the price. Similarly, 86% of U.S. adults say there should be limits on the price of drugs that government-funded research helped develop. 

Regarding the influence of pharmaceutical companies on the political process, 78% of adults say political campaigns should not be allowed to accept donations from pharmaceutical companies during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE LARGER TREND

Concerns over payment aren't the only race-related disparities found in healthcare. Dr. Garth Graham, the vice president of community health at CVS Health, said during AHIP's Institute and Expo in June that although African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for about 24% of COVID-19 deaths.

He attributed some of the driving factors for these particular COVID-19-related disparities to the social determinants of health, the over-predominance of African American and Latino frontline workers, and the higher incidence-rates of chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension in minority groups.

On June 19 – Juneteenth, as it's known for many Black Americans – 36 Chicago hospitals penned an open letter declaring that systemic racism is a "public health crisis."

"Systemic racism is a real threat to the health of our patients, families and communities," the letter reads. "We stand with all of those who have raised their voices to capture the attention of Chicago and the nation with a clear call for action."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com