Costs Still Keep 30% of Americans From Getting Treatment
Well-Being

Costs Still Keep 30% of Americans From Getting Treatment

by Alyssa Brown

Lower-income and younger adults most likely to have delayed treatment

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the Affordable Care Act's deadline for getting health insurance approaches, 30% of U.S. adults still say that they, or a family member, have put off medical treatment in the past year because of the cost. This figure has been stable since 2005, but is higher than it was between 2001 and 2004.

Percentage of Americans Putting Off Medical Treatment Because of Cost, 2001-2013

Uninsured Americans are more than twice as likely as those who have Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance to say they put off medical treatment. Fifty-nine percent of the uninsured have done so, compared with roughly one-quarter of those with Medicare or Medicaid (22%) or private health insurance (25%).

Additionally, younger Americans aged 18 to 29 and lower-income Americans -- two groups that are the least likely to have health coverage -- are significantly more likely to have put off treatment than their older and higher-income counterparts.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," that takes effect in 2014 requires most Americans to get insurance or pay a fine. Most uninsured Americans say they plan to get insurance, which is likely to reduce the percentage who put off medical treatment. But about one in four Americans who currently have insurance still put off treatment, so increasing the percentage who are insured should help reduce, although it likely won't eliminate, Americans' forgoing medical treatment for cost reasons.

Americans More Likely to Put Off Care for Serious Conditions

Americans overall are more likely to put off medical treatment for a serious condition than a non-serious one, which generally has been the case since Gallup began asking this question annually in 2001. The percentage of Americans putting off treatment for a serious condition because of cost has increased since the early 2000s, while the percentage putting it off for a non-serious condition has barely budged.

Putting Off Treatment For a Serious vs. Non-Serious Condition, 2001-2013

Implications

Americans named cost as the most urgent health problem in the nation this year, with more citing this issue than access, obesity, and cancer. Healthcare costs also remain a significant problem for individuals: a higher percentage of Americans now say they put off medical treatment because of cost than did so in the early 2000s. One possible explanation for the higher numbers since then is the increase in the number of high-deductible plans. Americans with serious conditions who have insurance may be putting off treatment to avoid high out-of-pocket costs.

If the Affordable Care Act -- which is designed to ensure that all Americans have affordable health coverage -- works as intended, fewer Americans should need to put off getting necessary medical treatment because of cost. This could positively affect individuals' personal health situations and workplace productivity. At the same time, the possible uptick in the number of Americans seeking medical treatment may put additional strain on the healthcare system, creating new problems.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,039 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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