High Out-of-Pocket Healthcare Costs Dissuade Patient Care Access

According to a survey, nearly 70 percent of Houston adults reported that expensive out-of-pocket healthcare costs were a significant barrier to patient care access.

For many Houston adults, high out-of-pocket healthcare costs have deterred them from accessing care, according to new survey data collected by Sesame via Pollfish.

The nation's fourth-largest city is on the front lines of the healthcare affordability crisis, survey authors said.

Lack of affordable and comprehensive health insurance has caused hardships for patients with healthcare needs. Nearly 1.2 million Houston residents under 65 were uninsured; as of now, the state has the highest uninsured rate in the country, according to state data.

In the survey of 450 Houston-based patients, 68 percent admitted that they skipped doctor’s appointments due to a lack of affordability.

Expensive out-of-pocket costs have also steered 59 percent of patients away from filling a prescription, and 55 percent avoided getting an x-ray or lab tests. Additionally, 68 percent said they’ve skipped dental visits due to high costs.

These numbers are even more astonishing for Houston-based patients with chronic diseases, as 74 percent skipped their doctor’s visit. Sixty-eight percent of patients with chronic disease held off picking up their prescription, and 63 percent avoided getting x-rays or lab testing.

Affordability has consistently been an issue that has impacted patients. Yet, healthcare costs continue to rise. According to the US Consumer Price Index, the cost of medical services rose nearly 5 percent within a single year; the average cost for medical care is currently $546.86.

Along with the inflation of medical costs, essential living expenses are inflating as well.

Nearly all survey respondents stated that inflation and rising gas prices restricted their ability to afford necessities such as rent or medical bills. As a result of inflation, 59 percent of Houston patients have cut back on medical expenses like filling prescriptions or going to the doctor.

Delayed or avoided medical care can have severe consequences for patient health.

According to researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, 57 percent of patients said they’ve experienced negative health consequences after delaying care.

Furthermore, researchers estimate an additional 10,000 deaths from colon and breast cancer over the next ten years due to missed screenings during 2020 alone.

With that said, Houstonians who continually miss out on critical screenings, vaccinations, chronic disease management, and early detection of new conditions pose a public health risk.

Better patient-provider communication about healthcare cost and affordability can help patients adhere to screenings and other services.

“Most patients are comfortable with their clinician or nurse asking questions about medication costs and affordability,” a researcher wrote in a study published in 2019. “However, few patients mention their cost concerns to their physicians, and thus these conversations are infrequent, and cost-related nonadherence goes unrecognized.”

“Interventions to improve the occurrence and content of cost-of-care conversations could be simple and may be shown to be effective in future studies in this population,” the researchers continued.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the survey was commissioned by Sesame via Pollfish. It was not commissioned solely by Pollfish.

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