Expert: How Houstonians are affected by health care affordability
If you have felt like everything is getting more expensive lately — even at the doctor’s office or picking up your prescriptions — you’re not alone.
New survey data from health marketplace Sesame shows that Houston residents are on the front lines of the health care affordability crisis. Though the uninsured rate nationwide is at a record low, there are still more than 26 million Americans without any health insurance — and millions more on high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Since tens of millions of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured, it’s no surprise that local residents are feeling the pinch in their wallet with medical expenses — and many are holding off on making their annual doctor’s appointments as a result.
Let’s break down the data a bit further:
In a survey of 450 Houston-based consumers, ages 18 and over, 68 percent of respondents admitted they have skipped a doctor’s appointment, 59 percent have skipped filling a prescription, 55 percent have avoided getting an x-ray or lab, and 68 percent skip the dentist — all due to high costs. These numbers are shockingly even higher for Houstonians with chronic medical conditions — with 74 percent skipping the doctor or dentist, 68 percent holding off on prescriptions and 63 percent avoiding x-rays or labs.
Almost all respondents (92 percent) say that rising gas prices and inflation are impacting their ability to afford essential items like rent/mortgage payments or medical bills — and 65 percent feel extremely impacted by these forces. As a result, 79 percent are cutting back on transportation expenses, 80 percent have cut back on grocery and food expenses – and 59 percent admit they have cut back on medical expenses like filling prescriptions or going to the doctor.
Skipping or delaying medical care can have serious consequences, according to researchers. A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that 57 percent of Americans who delayed medical care reported negative health consequences as a result. Experts estimate an additional 10,000 deaths from colon and breast cancer over the next 10 years, due to missed screenings during 2020 alone.
Medical debt is another issue plaguing local residents. Nearly half (48 percent) of those surveyed have medical debt. Of those with debt, 57 percent have more than $1,000 in debt and almost a quarter owe more than $5,000. Medical debt often happens as a result of surprise medical bills, of which 52 percent of Houstonians have received in the last year. The new No Surprises Act passed this year should help with some of these concerns in the future, but it’s important to understand what is protected and what isn’t.
Finally, 15 percent of respondents say they don’t have a primary care doctor, and 9 percent of those with chronic conditions do not. More than a third of respondents did not have an annual physical this year. Cost, lack of transportation and lack of time away from home or work were cited as the biggest barriers to care.