The average American spent over $5,000 on medical care in 2021 — a figure that would be much higher if patients pursued all of the care that’s necessary for them.
According to a new survey from financial services company Discover, many people are skipping out on fundamental medical care needs (including medication and regular checkups) for fear of the bill.
Burdened by medical debt
Americans have been shouldering both physical and mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to benefits provider LifeWorks' most recent Mental Health Index. According to the Discover survey, 58% of respondents said they've had to cover an unexpected expense as a result of the pandemic.
In addition, respondents said they used their emergency savings (29%) and credit cards (13%), paid bills later (16%) or borrowed from loved ones (19%) to cover the costs of emergency expenses. A previous report from HSA platform Lively also showed that the majority have also reduced their health savings contributions in 2021.
When it comes to medical care needs, people are having to pick and choose what they can afford to address. Many respondents in the Discover survey said that they put off routine checkups (44%), paying for medication (39%) and visiting the doctor when they're sick (33%) because of the cost.
Additional procedures respondents have forgone included:
- Surgeries (27%)
- X-rays or other scans (26%)
- Doctor-recommended treatment plans (24%)
- Specialist visits (24%)
Here are some other main findings from the survey:
- 63% of respondents express anxiety over paying for medical debt, while just 47% worry about the improvement of their health
- Around 80% of those with existing medical debt report postponing medical care due to its cost
- Over 40% say they feel unprepared about how to deal with surprise medical expenses
- 37% say they aren’t paying other bills, 32% say they aren’t saving for retirement and 28% say they aren’t contributing to their emergency savings due to medical debt
How do patients pay for care?
When it comes to paying for care, medical insurance is not the most common form of payment used by patients. Here's how respondents say they pay their medical bills:
- Credit card (41%)
- Insurance (38%)
- Hospital payment plans (27%)
- Personal loans (22%)
Unfortunately, credit cards are one of the most expensive methods of payment, whether for covering medical bills or other expenses. As of November, the average interest rate on a new credit card is hovering just below 20% (19.49%), and 23% of survey respondents said they're only making minimum payments on their cards, so their debt will continue to grow.
Meanwhile, many medical patients aren't aware that hospitals offer payment plans that could include 0% interest, and don’t require any financing. In addition to asking about available payment plans, patients can use a number of tactics to access more affordable care, including trying to link negotiate medical bills before receiving treatment or using an online comparison tool to find a facility that offers the same service at a lower fee.
*Methodology: Discover commissioned a national survey of 1,515 U.S. residents ages 18 and up, conducted by research firm Dynata between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, 2021.