Three in 10 Households Still Deferring Medical Care

by Lydia Saad

Rate of deferring medical treatment has been stable for past four years

PRINCETON, NJ -- Approximately 3 in 10 American adults (29%) say they or a family member put off medical treatment in the past 12 months because of what they'd have to pay. This prevalence of delaying treatment is similar to what Gallup has found each year since 2005, but higher than earlier this decade.


The latest finding comes from Gallup's annual polling on healthcare, conducted Nov. 13-16, 2008. Thus, even as economic conditions have deteriorated significantly over the last 12 months, Gallup finds no evidence that this is affecting people's ability or willingness to seek medical treatment.

A little more than half of those who report having put off treatment in the past year say it was for either a "very serious" or a "somewhat serious" medical condition or illness. The resulting picture is that 17% of households, overall, delayed treatment for a serious medical issue and 12% put off treatment for a non-serious issue, while 70% did not put off treatment.


According to combined data from Gallup's 2007 and 2008 healthcare surveys, the vast majority of people who say they or a family member put off medical treatment -- 77% -- have health insurance, either in the form of Medicare or Medicaid, or private insurance. Only about a quarter -- 23% -- have no health insurance.

However, these statistics largely reflect the fact that there are far more insured than uninsured Americans (89% vs. 11%). They also mask the important reality that delaying medical care is the norm for the uninsured.

Among the 11% of Americans with no health insurance, 61% tell Gallup they put off seeking medical treatment in the past year. This contrasts with 29% of those with private health insurance, and only 18% of those with Medicaid or Medicare coverage.


Their high earnings don't completely shield upper-income Americans from the burden of healthcare costs. However, the aggregate healthcare data clearly indicate that putting off medical care is directly related to income, rising from 20% among those earning $75,000 or more annually to 39% among those earning less than $30,000.


Bottom Line

Medical care can run the gamut from routine checkups and elective surgery, to visiting the doctor for flu symptoms, to lifesaving medical treatments and procedures. As the Gallup healthcare data show, many Americans say the medical attention they or a family member chose not to seek because of cost was for a less-than-serious condition. However, the 17% who say it was serious is nothing to sneeze at.

An important goal of healthcare reform will be to make sure this 17% of Americans receive proper medical care in the future. For some this would entail providing access to healthcare coverage. For most, however, it would involve making healthcare more affordable.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 13-16, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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