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How the Health Care System Makes Americans Sicker How the Health Care System Makes Americans Sicker

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Health Care

How the Health Care System Makes Americans Sicker

Citing high costs, some are putting off getting checked out, which puts their health—and the entire industry—at further risk in the long run.

(Shutterstock)

photo of Marina Koren
December 9, 2013

"Don't wait until it's too late." That's the motto of preventive medicine that, for one-third of Americans, is not an option.

In the last year, 30 percent of American adults say that they or a family member put off medical treatment because of the cost, according to a Gallup Poll out Monday. Nearly 60 percent of uninsured people delayed getting checked out, more than double the amount of people with private health insurance (25 percent) and those with Medicare or Medicaid (22 percent).

Such procrastination is not new. Similar numbers of Americans have been putting off calling the doctor to avoid expensive treatment or out-of-pocket costs since 2005. But the continuing trend has serious implications.

 

In the last decade, polls have shown that Americans are more likely to delay seeking medical treatment for a serious condition than for one that's not, and they've done so more each year. Treating diabetes costs more than treating a nasty scrape or bruise.

But scrapes and bruises are not long-term threats to Americans' health and the country's health care system. When medical issues go untreated, they can get worse, costing both patients and the entire industry much more when people finally seek medical attention. A concern that could have been addressed by a primary-care physician graduates to a worse problem treated by a usually more expensive specialist. Eventually, it can become a lifelong condition costing thousands a year in prescriptions and premiums.

For Americans, however, the threat of chronic illness is no longer the biggest problem in health care. Cost replaced access as the top concern last month, then followed by obesity and cancer.

Delaying treatment for fear of high costs could, if the Affordable Care Act works as intended, be remedied for some Americans. Then again, a surge in Americans seeking medical treatment could strain the health care system, leading to longer wait times for appointments and less face time with doctors.

In this poll, Gallup surveyed by telephone 1,039 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, between Nov. 7 and Nov. 10. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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