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Inflation Spurs Healthcare Affordability, Patient Care Access Woes

One in 10 people said inflation has exacerbated healthcare affordability problems and impeded patient care access.

The nation’s problems with inflation are spilling over into the medical sector, with people reporting that higher prices are causing healthcare affordability and patient care access challenges, according to data from Nationwide Retirement Institute.

In the past 12 months, 14 percent of the 1,140 people surveyed by Harris Poll said they canceled or postponed plans to see a healthcare specialist. One in 10 respondents said they canceled or postponed plans to take a prescribed medication or get their annual physical (11 percent), the survey added.

Inflation is also making it hard for people to access mental healthcare, with 17 percent of Gen Z and 19 percent of Millennials putting off mental healthcare access because of cost.

This comes as nationwide inflation puts pressure on already tight patient healthcare budgets. Even before inflation became a widespread issue in the US, patients said that high healthcare costs were keeping them from getting the healthcare they needed. Last year, surveying from West Healthcare and Gallup Poll found that three in 10 Americans cited high healthcare costs as a care access barrier.

Now, inflation is putting even more strain on healthcare affordability, the Nationwide Retirement Institute said.

"As the price of health care and basic necessities continue to reach record highs, Americans have been forced to make tough decisions that sacrifice their health and wellbeing," Kristi Rodriguez, senior vice president of the Nationwide Retirement Institute, said in a public statement.

"While these decisions are understandable and challenging, making short-term tradeoffs may have long-term impacts,” Rodriguez added. “Neglecting your health now can lead to far bigger costs as you age and approach retirement. This is such a critical time to consult with a financial professional to create a plan that prioritizes your health care needs now and in retirement."

In fact, the survey showed that budgeting for healthcare expenses—which can lead to better financial health down the road—isn’t quite happening. Around one-fifth of respondents said that in the past 12 months, they have adjusted the family budget to pay for healthcare expenditures. Fifteen percent said they have delayed large purchases or investments in order to pay for healthcare, the survey said.

Budgeting challenges are causing some anxiety about healthcare affordability, especially when people age into retirement and naturally begin to incur more medical needs and challenges. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents said one of their top concerns in retirement is healthcare costs ballooning out of control. Meanwhile, only 39 percent have a plan to pay for healthcare costs into retirement.

But it’s not just costs directly linked to clinical care that trouble consumers, the survey added. For starters, some people are downgrading their insurance coverage in order to save money, with 14 percent of people of any age reporting as much. That trend is more common among younger people, with 23 percent of Gen Z and 20 percent of Millennials saying they are downgrading insurance coverage.

Additionally, people are reporting food insecurity, a top social determinant of health. Inflation and its associated rising costs across the board are making it hard for people to afford groceries, or the nutritious foods they are used to buying.

In the past 12 months, 17 percent of American households received food or goods from a food bank, while the same number stopped buying healthier foods, like organic or high-priced nutritious foods. About a fifth of respondents said they skipped meals or didn’t buy groceries because of inflation.

This problem was more salient with younger generations, with 22 percent of Millennials saying their food or goods sometimes come from food banks, and 28 percent of Gen Z and 23 percent of Millennials saying they skipped meals or groceries because of cost.

Separate data has also found that inflation is impacting populations of color more than other demographic groups.

In August 2022, polling from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that one in four American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people said they are having serious problems affording medical care or prescription drugs.

Another 22 percent of Black people and 19 percent of Latino people said the same. That all compares to just 16 percent of White people experiencing the same issues. Among Asian respondents, 14 percent said costs are problematic.

"These poll findings are a reminder that while everyone is impacted by today's inflation and economy, we're not all feeling the same pressures in the same ways," Alonzo Plough, vice president for Research and Evaluation and chief science officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, stated publicly.

"These differences are the result of policies and practices that have created fewer opportunities in some communities and we need solutions that are designed to build a more equitable future,” Plough added.

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