Americans Suffer Anxiety Over Fears of Medical Debt, Survey Finds

It's no secret that the United States has the most expensive healthcare system. According to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, healthcare spending per person sits at $12,255, and medical debt is beginning to weigh on Americans’ everyday livelihoods.

A new survey from Tebra of 800 U.S. residents and 200 healthcare professionals reveals many Americans are suffering from high medical costs, with care providers in agreement. Many are feeling anxiety about keeping up with medical expenses.

Tebras’s survey finds one in three respondents have avoided or delayed medical treatment due to cost and aren’t prepared for unexpected medical expenses. Tebra’s Merritt Ryan notes it is worrisome that many Americans are trending to ditch treatment due to high cost.

“Beyond the obvious hit to people’s health in the short term, putting off treatment like that often means conditions get worse and end up costing more down the line,” Ryan tells Healthnews. “This trend really shines a light on the bigger systemic issues around access and affordability in healthcare.”

The top changes respondents look to improve care affordability included lower drug prices, free healthcare, transparent pricing, a limit on healthcare costs, and a more efficient system as a whole.

Healthcare professionals are also recognizing the financial burden care costs put on patients. Tebra finds that 63% of respondents have witnessed increases in patients skipping or delaying appointments due to costs. One in four say the state of the economy has increased their concerns about healthcare costs.

Healthcare providers admit to reductions in staff, implementing hiring freezes, cutting nonessential spending, simplifying administrative processes, and reducing working hours as cost-cutting measures due to economic struggles.

Patients and providers recognize high healthcare costs, as do large corporations. Last week, American retailer Walmart announced it was closing its health centers and telehealth services due to poor profits and operating costs.

Americans are interested in telehealth appointments like those set to be no longer offered by Walmart to reduce care costs. Tebra’s survey found that 19% used telehealth services to offset high medical costs.

“From what our survey data is showing, it looks like those sky-high healthcare costs are driving more people to virtual doctor appointments lately,” Ryan says. “Telehealth ends up being a much cheaper option than traditional in-person visits when you factor in not having to pay for things like transportation, childcare, or taking time off work. Plus, telehealth can serve up more budget-friendly choices for patients, especially those without really great insurance coverage.”

With high medical costs, many are feeling the pressure of healthy finances versus medical treatments. Tebra found that 73% of responders were anxious about affording healthcare, with over a quarter of those admitting they suffered from extreme anxiety. Healthcare costs are just another factor leading to the rise of mental health troubles in the U.S.

Mental illness in America

According to the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, 57.8 million American adults are currently suffering from a mental illness like anxiety or depression. Ryan notes not only do medical costs impact mental health but also mental health treatments.

“Our survey results suggest those overblown healthcare prices could be part of what’s fueling the upswing in mental health struggles like depression and anxiety we’re seeing,” Ryan says. “When healthcare gets that pricey, it creates a real roadblock for people trying to get access to mental health services and support like therapy sessions or medication.”

Already, 20 million people in the U.S. have acquired medical debt, notes a Peterson-KFF analysis from the year. Nearly two-thirds, 14 million, owe over $1,000 in medical debt, while 3 million owe more than $10,000.

A previous study found cancer survivors with high amounts of medical debt, $10,000 or more, were increasingly likely to report social and economic impacts, plus strained relationships. Also, many cited personnel financial sacrifices such as the depletion of assets and the inability to pay bills.

Ryan believes now more than ever Tebra’s survey findings prove the stress medical treatments are placing on Americans.

“It’s worrying that a third of people have skipped or postponed medical treatment this year because of the costs involved,” Ryan explains. “That’s a major roadblock to getting the healthcare services they need and raises some red flags around how affordable healthcare actually is these days.”

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