One of the toughest financial decisions you’ll ever have to make is skipping needed medical care due to cost, but a lot of Americans did so last year. Nearly four in 10 adults (38%) reported that they (or a family member) postponed medical treatment in 2022 because of high costs, according to a new Gallup survey. That was up from 26% the previous year — the biggest one-year gain in Gallup’s 22 years of tracking the metric.
The main culprit was last year’s soaring inflation rate, which reached its highest level in more than four decades. Americans were more likely to name inflation as the most important problem facing the U.S. in 2022 than at any time since 1984, according to Gallup. Last year’s 38% medical care reading was the highest ever, topping 33% in both 2014 and 2019.
The likelihood of delaying medical treatment due to high healthcare costs varies dramatically depending on income. In 2022, households with an annual household income under $40,000 were nearly twice as likely to delay treatment (34%) as those with an income of $100,000 or more (18%). For households with incomes between $40,000 and $100,000, about three in 10 (29%) reported delaying medical care due to high costs.
If you need medical treatment but don’t think you can afford it, there are ways to lower your health costs. Here’s a look at five actions that can help make healthcare more affordable:
1. Save Money on Medicines
One of the surest ways to save money on healthcare costs is to ask your provider if you can switch to generic drugs, according to Medline Plus, a consumer health service of the National Library of Medicine. Generics have the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs, but cost much less. You can also ask your provider if there is a less expensive medicine that treats the same condition. Another money-saving option is to order your medicine through the mail whenever possible.
2. Use Providers in Your Network
Using doctors and medical facilities outside of your health insurance plan network can kick your medical costs up considerably. Before visiting a provider, check with your insurer to make sure they are in your network.
“Always start with your primary care physician, where your copay or out-of-pocket cost will be lowest,” Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, told CNBC.
3. Use Outpatient Facilities Instead of Hospitals
If you need surgery or another type of medical procedure, ask your provider if you can have it done at an outpatient clinic. Getting care at a clinic is often cheaper than having the same procedure in a hospital.
4. Maximize Your Deductible
The deductible is the amount you must pay for healthcare before your insurance coverage kicks in. The average single employee had a deductible of around $1,760 in 2022, CNBC reported, citing data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Once you have reached your deductible, you can save money by squeezing in other needed medical care within the same year. Certain preventive care procedures are covered even before you reach your deductible, such as screenings and immunizations. Getting these can help you avoid potentially costly and life-threatening conditions later.
5. Avoid Emergency Care Whenever Possible
When an unexpected illness or injury occurs, it’s helpful to make a quick determination of how serious it is before deciding what to do. You can save money if you use an urgent care center or your provider rather than going to the emergency department, according to Medline Plus. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use emergency services — but you should familiarize yourself with some of the warning signs that constitute an emergency so you will know the difference. Medline plus offers information on recognizing an emergency in adults and in children.
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