When the Federal Reserve released its annual Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households report last week, it cast light on the flagging financial outlook of many Americans over the past year. While more people feel worse off now financially than they were one year ago, more people are also hurting in a much more tangible way because they can’t afford medical care.
A full 28% of American adults went without some form of medical care in 2022 because the cost was too high. This is up from 24% last year and 23% in 2020, but below the high of 32% reported in 2013.
Dental care was the treatment most skipped by adults at 21%, followed by visiting a doctor (16%), prescription medicine (10%), follow-up care (10%) and mental health counseling (10%).
The Fed report found that skipping medical procedures or care was solidly related to income. Notably, 38% of those who went without medical care because they couldn’t afford it had a household income of less than $25,000 — compared to 11% of adults who skipped aid making $100,000 or more.
The report, which takes data provided by the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), rates the economic well-being of U.S. households and identifies potential risks to their financial stability.
Although health concerns rated much lower than inflation as the biggest financial challenge for respondents in the Fed survey, other recent studies show that health is as big a concern as inflation and that potentially many more Americans are going without medical attention.
Americans More Concerned About Health Than Inflation or Cost of Groceries
The Primerica Financial Security Monitor poll, used to track the financial health and mood of middle-income Americans (those with annual household incomes of $30,000 to $100,000), found that respondents are slightly more concerned about health this year (35%), than inflation (32%) or paying for food and groceries (25%).
According to Gallup, 38% of Americans skipped or delayed medical care in 2022 due to cost, up 12% from 2021 and the highest percentage tracked by the polling company in 22 years. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report indicated that four in 10 adults, more than 100 million Americans, currently have debt due to medical or dental bills — and that 79% of those with health care debt reported skipping (or delaying) care or medications due to costs.
With less people being able to afford medical aid and the U.S. having by far the most expensive health care of any high-income country, per Statista, it’s more important than ever for households to seek out the cheapest medical options available and cut costs where they can.
What Are Your Cheapest Medical Care Options?
Undoubtedly, the better physical shape you are in, the less medical care you will need. Regular physical activity can help you better manage chronic health conditions and disabilities, improve your brain health, reduce your health risk and increase your chances of living longer. Many times, however, medical care is unavoidable, whether unexpected or routine.
Here are four actions that can help make healthcare more affordable for you in 2023 and beyond:
1. Take Generic Prescriptions
About 10% of those surveyed in the Fed study said they skipped buying prescriptions because they couldn’t afford them. If you’re in this boat, ask your doctor if a generic substitute would be okay to use the next time you’re given a brand name medicine to fill. Generics have the same active ingredients as the brand-name drugs they’re based on and competition from generic drug makers helps make drugs more widely available and less expensive, allowing millions of patients to access the medicines they need more easily.
2. Ask About Outpatient Facilities
Although a decision between outpatient care or inpatient services comes down to the level of treatment required, care at an outpatient facility — ambulatory surgery centers and hospital outpatient centers — is customarily less expensive. So, don’t be afraid to ask your provider if you can have a procedure or surgery done at an outpatient clinic, should the need arise.
3. Use In-Network Providers
If you have a health plan, always check with your primary care physician and in-network providers first. Depending on your health insurance coverage, you may have the choice to see providers who are in your plan network or a more costly out-of-network servicer. Staying in-network will be less expensive because these professionals have contracts and agreements in place with your plan providers to charge lower rates.
4. Shop Carefully for a Healthcare Plan
Not properly considering the health needs of you and your family or sticking with the same benefits year after year without looking at alternatives can wind up costing you thousands. Balance a plan’s premiums, deductible and coverage against existing health problems and your medical care needs wisely to make sure you don’t overpay for services. Make sure to compare prescription drug coverage and find out which preventative care procedures (e.g., immunizations, screenings) are covered without requiring you to pay a deductible.
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