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Health Care a Victim of Sick Economy

Poll Shows Nation's Financial Troubles Force Many People to Cut Back on Medical Care
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 29, 2008 -- Economic woes and rising health care costs are leading many Americans into financial disaster, prompting more and more people to forgo necessary medical treatments -- and even marry to get health insurance.

A Kaiser Family Foundation telephone poll of 2,003 adults shows that Americans rank health care as one of their top personal economic concerns. Nearly three out of 10 of those surveyed said they have had considerable trouble trying to pay for medical care or health insurance, and they blame the problem on the struggling economy.

The April poll was conducted to learn how Americans are dealing with the increasing costs of health care. Among the findings:

  • 17% said they used all of most of their savings to foot the bill for medical costs.
  • One in five reported being contacted by a collections agency because of medical bills over the last 5 years.
  • Medical bills forced 3% of those polled to declare bankruptcy.

Health care costs appeared to greatly influence family budgets, with some families having to choose between paying medical bills and buying items such as food. Twelve percent of those polled said that they were unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat, or housing as a result of medical bills.

"Many people view health and the economy as separate issues, but the cost of health care is a significant pocketbook issue for many families and paying for health care has become a key dimension of the public's economic concerns," Kaiser President and CEO Drew E. Altman says in a news release.

Pricey health care also resulted in a significant number of Americans forgoing or delaying medical treatments. For example:

  • 29% said someone in their household put off or postponed getting needed care.
  • 24% skipped a recommended medical test or treatment -- up from 17% in 2005.
  • 23% did not fill a prescription.
  • 19% cut pills in half or skipped doses of medicine to save money.

The poll also showed that people tend to stay with -- or join -- employers who offered health benefits. Nearly a quarter (23%) of those surveyed said that within the past year they or someone in their household took a new job or remained in their current position because the health benefits were better.

Some people even said "I do" to get better health insurance. Seven percent of those polled said they or someone in their household took a walk down the aisle so they could have access to their spouse's health care plan.  

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

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