Americans are putting off medical care due to coronavirus fears — but there have been consequences

Original Article By Meera Jagannathan

The global public-health emergency has forced many Americans to put their own health care on the back burner, a new survey suggests.

Almost half of U.S. adults (48%) say they or a household member have skipped or put off medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care think tank. Women (54%) were more likely than men (42%) to report this experience.

Of course, deferring or forgoing health care can have consequences: 11% of respondents overall said their or their family member’s condition had worsened as a result. But some 68% of people who had delayed or skipped care — and 32% of respondents overall — said they expected to get the care they needed within the next three months.

Hospital systems across the country are hurting as the pandemic forced most non-emergency procedures to be canceled, resulting in steep revenue loss. While many health-care workers are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, others have faced furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs.

At the same time, the pandemic has added to Americans’ existing aversion to seeking medical care due to cost concerns. One in four people surveyed by Gallup late last year said that they or a family member had delayed treating a “serious” condition over the previous year because of cost, a record high for the company’s polling on that question.

Some 54% of renters said they had put off medical care because they couldn’t afford it, a separate 2019 survey of renters and medical professionals by Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable-housing nonprofit, concluded.

The latest Kaiser poll, conducted May 13-18 from a random sample of 1,189 U.S. adults, also found that the vast majority of adults (86%) reported that their physical health had stayed about the same since the pandemic started, with older respondents even more likely than younger respondents to say so.

Mental health was another story: Some 39% of respondents said that coronavirus-related stress and worry had negatively impacted their mental health, though the share of respondents who said it had a “major” negative impact declined seven percentage points from early April.

Meanwhile, 31% of respondents said they’d had trouble paying for household expense, such as “credit-card or other bills” (18%), utilities (17%), rent or mortgage (15%), food (13%) or medical bills (11%). The share of people struggling to afford any household expense was higher (49%) among those living in households that had experienced job or income loss due to the pandemic.

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