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The Real Cost of Delayed Healthcare

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to delay seeking the medical care they need, but it’s an unfortunate reality for many Americans. Here’s why delayed medical care is such a bad idea.

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If you were hit with an unexpected $1,000 medical bill today, would you be able to absorb the four-figure cost without going into serious debt? According to a 2021 survey by Bankrate, only 39% of Americans have enough savings to withstand a $1,000 emergency. That might sound shocking, but this isn’t exactly a new problem.

Since 2014, the share of U.S. adults who say they could pay for an unexpected $1,000 expense in cash has held pretty steady, drifting between 37% and 41%. Yet out-of-pocket spending for healthcare is an inevitability for many Americans — especially amid a global pandemic. The Federal Reserve reported that 17% of American adults faced unanticipated medical costs (falling between $1,000 and $1,999) in 2020.

But how do families without much financial cushion get by? According to the same Bankrate survey, many end up using high-interest credit cards, borrowing money from family and friends, or even taking out personal loans, all of which can result in a cycle of debt that’s hard to break. The other option — delaying or even skipping important medical care — isn’t any better, but when financial ruin is behind door No. 1, door No. 2 might not look so bad.

Delayed Medical Care Is More Common Than You Might Think

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to delay seeking the medical care they need, but it’s a sad reality for many Americans. The Fed found that 23% of U.S. adults delayed medical care in 2020 due to an inability to pay, and a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 50% of U.S. adults delayed or missed care in 2021 for the same reason.

This isn’t just a matter of avoiding the emergency room, though. Per KFF, the most frequently delayed forms of medical care in 2021 were dental work (39%), vision care (28%), visits to the doctor (24%), and mental health care (17%) — all of which can be considered “preventive care.” Plus, 29% of American adults went without drug prescription refills because they couldn’t afford the associated copays.

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of care disproportionately impacts minorities, folks with lower incomes, and uninsured people. Per KFF, just under half of white adults in the U.S. reported delaying or skipping at least one healthcare appointment in the past year because of costs; that number was closer to 60% among Black and Hispanic adults.

Similarly, the Fed’s 2020 analysis uncovered a strong connection between income levels and the probability of forgoing medical care: 35% of those who earned less than $50,000 per year delayed medical care due to cost. Interestingly, the same was true for 19% of people who earned between $50,000 and $100,000 and 8% of those who earned $100,000 or more.

Finally, a 2019 KFF report showed that 76% of uninsured adults were likely to defer care or opt for over-the-counter medicines instead of prescription drugs to save money. Unfortunately, even people covered by health insurance can’t escape the pernicious burden of healthcare costs. According to KFF’s 2021 report, 46% of insured U.S. adults reported difficulty affording out-of-pocket care in 2021, and about one-quarter said they found it difficult to afford their deductibles.

The Importance of Preventive Healthcare

Delaying medical care, such as annual check-ups, might seem like an easy way to cut expenses in the short term, but there are physical and financial costs of delaying healthcare. Why is preventive healthcare so important? For one thing, it saves lives.

Health screenings are essential measures in maintaining overall health. For instance, studies have shown that healthcare providers can detect early signs of chronic conditions during routine eye and teeth examinations. Wellness checkups are a doctor’s first line of defense against preventable disease, and earlier detection of health-related problems leads to better outcomes. Routine cardiovascular exams, for example, save thousands of lives every year.

But when a disease or disorder isn’t detected until it has progressed beyond regular management, patients end up with worse health outcomes and higher medical costs. KFF found that a larger share of adults in households with chronic conditions reported having problems paying medical bills, with 18% saying it had a “major impact” on their families.

As an HR leader, you want your employees to prioritize their health and wellness. Offering a one-size-fits-all health insurance plan might have worked in the past, but many insured Americans are still forced to make the difficult choice between financial and physical health.

This is where Paytient can help. Our health payment account is designed to work alongside your existing insurance while increasing every employee’s access to medical, vision, dental, and even veterinary care without draining their savings accounts. Employees simply swipe their Paytient card at the time of care to cover any upfront costs, and then they effortlessly set up a payment plan that meets their needs. All transactions are completely free of any interest, fees, and other unwanted surprises — always.

When you provide your team with a healthier way to pay for the care they need, they’ll be more likely to seek out important preventive care when health issues arise. And those seemingly small changes can help ensure they continue to lead long, healthy lives.

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