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More than half of Americans have avoided medical care due to cost

Prices are a priority, with 91% saying that costs for medical services should be as readily available as prices on a restaurant menu.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

If there's one thing a majority of Americans can agree on, it's that healthcare costs are too expensive, and they want upfront pricing.

HealthPocket released results today of a pulse survey which found that 85% of U.S. adults think that healthcare costs in general are too high. Underscoring that point, 51% of those surveyed have avoided medical care due to lack of ability to pay.

The survey found that prices are a priority, with 91% saying that costs for medical services should be as readily available as prices on a restaurant menu. In fact, 78% have been afraid to go to the hospital because of cost, with an overwhelming majority, 96%, saying that hospitals should be upfront about the cost before treatment.

Given the option, 86% said they would compare prices before going to the hospital if prices were posted online.

About four in ten of those surveyed have been unable to pay a medical bill at some point. Meanwhile, nearly 30% currently have medical debt. When given an option on how medical bills that can't be paid should be handled, 46% believed they should be put on a payment plan; another one in four said that the government should pay the doctor or hospital; 13% said the debt should just be forgiven; and 12% said volunteer work should be done in exchange for a discount.

The survey also revealed that three in four Americans don't think that someone should have to declare bankruptcy over unpaid medical bills. When asked if unpaid medical bills should impact one's credit score, 77% said no. When asked what the best fix is for the healthcare system, only 3% said to leave it as is.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

There were a number of other findings spotlighted in the survey, including that 71% of respondents needed some kind of medical care outside of a routine wellness visit in the last year. Almost half, 49%, have used their health insurance two or more times in the last year.

Of those with medical debt, 11% have considered declaring bankruptcy. A significant number, 47%, think the government should forgive the $81 billion in past-due medical debt, while 51% think everyone should have the same healthcare even if they don't spend the same amount to get it.

THE LARGER TREND

Just this week, a Wolters Kluwer report broke down Americans' ongoing struggles with medical costs by age group, finding that millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to forego medical care due to cost.

This trend has emerged from a growing knowledge, across all generations, that there are cost variations across locations, health systems and even among departments in the same hospital. In the survey, 98% of respondents said they recognize these variations -- and this is forcing them to make some difficult choices.

Consumers are increasingly willing to shop around for better care, for example. Seventy-eight percent said they're likely to travel past the hospital closest to them if a hospital further away has a better reputation.

National nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies released research in May showing that, at 16%, millennials are more likely to be uninsured compared with the older generations (12% of Gen X and 8% of boomers), an increasing trend since 2016. When asked why they lack insurance, 60% of uninsured millennials say it's too expensive. More so than the older generations, uninsured millennials say they don't have time to acquire coverage.

Focus on Patient Experience

This month, our coverage will continue a special focus on the patient experience. We'll talk to the thought leaders and first-movers reimagining the how and where of patient-friendly tech, and report on ways to activate, if not delight, the people they treat.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com