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One in seven Americans would avoid care for suspected COVID-19 fearing cost of treatment

Even when asked to suspect themselves infected, 9% would still avoid treatment, suggesting gaps in coverage or poor finances.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

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. 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.

The findings, released today by the nonprofit West Health and Gallup as part of a series on the rising cost of healthcare in the U.S., come from a nationally representative survey of 1,017 U.S. adults conducted between April 1 and 14.

The series includes a look at rising drug costs. Results from a separate survey show 66% of U.S. adults believe prescription drug prices have increased either "a little" or "a lot" since 2017, the first year of the Trump administration.

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WHY THIS MATTERS

When presented with a scenario in which they experience telltale signs of COVID-19 such as a fever and a dry cough, 14% of U.S. adults say they would avoid seeking medical attention due to cost. Even when asked to specifically 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.

More than 20% of adults under 30, non-whites, those with a high school education or less and those in households with incomes under $40,000 per year were the groups most likely to avoid care.

Avoidance of care for any reason is a cause for concern and a public health challenge, as are the denials of care, which millions of Americans are experiencing as healthcare workers focus on COVID-19.

Those living in the Northeast region (11%) are the most likely to report having been denied care, followed by the West (8%). Just 5% in the South and 3% in the Midwest report the same, likely reflecting regional differences in COVID-19 diagnoses and associated hospitalizations. New York State has by far the greatest number of confirmed cases in the U.S., followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania -- all Northeast region states.

Although race does not strongly relate to being denied care, income level is strongly inversely related. While 3% of those with annual household incomes exceeding $100,000 report such occurrences, this jumps to 11% of those with incomes of under $40,000 – a figure nearly four times higher.

DRUG PRICES

A third of survey respondents believe the Trump Administration has made progress curtailing rising drug prices, with 31% reporting a "great deal" or a "fair amount." This marks a slight improvement over the 27% who saw progress in September.

The overall improvement in those seeing at least a fair amount of progress, however, was driven by independents (+6 points to 28%) and Democrats (+5 points). Republicans seeing progress dropped by seven percentage points to 56%, a statistically significant decline.

As a proposed means to lower prescription drug prices, the U.S. House late last year passed House Bill H.R. 3, also known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drugs Costs Now Act. When told that the legislation would allow federal regulatory agencies to negotiate drug prices with drug companies, 75% of U.S. adults support putting it up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. Partisans are closely aligned, with 72% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats supporting movement. Seventy-six percent of independents agree.

Data on prescription drug prices come from a nationally representative survey of 1,020 U.S. adults conducted between Feb. 17 and 28.

THE LARGER TREND

An examination of consumer sentiment before and during the pandemic, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute, details the extent to which consumer behavior is changing in healthcare.

The delivery of care may look different after the worst of the pandemic has passed, HRI found. One of the biggest and most visible changes is in the area of telehealth. American consumers are also taking a more active role in the health system, such as participating in clinical trials or sharing their data to help discover new treatments or ways of delivering care.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com