The Mounting Costs of Healthcare

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The cost of healthcare is a national emergency.

This is the opinion of 87% of Americans.

The pros and cons of government involvement in healthcare, “Medicare for all,” single-payer plans and privatization dominate political and social discussions today. Yet Americans are expressing remarkable clarity in their views on the importance, and the cost, of healthcare in this country.

Affordable healthcare tops list of issues for American consumers

When polled on the importance of key issues, Americans overwhelmingly put affordable healthcare at the top of the list.

A full 95% said that healthcare was very important or important to them.

  • Affordable healthcare: 95%
  • Affordable housing: 89%
  • Affordable education: 84%
  • Income equality (wage growth): 83%
  • Immigration: 82%
  • Environment/climate change: 81%
  • Gun control: 75%

When asked people to force rank the most important issues, affordable healthcare topped the list again.

Strong opinions about government involvement in healthcare

Americans were also very clear in opinions about government involvement in healthcare.

  • 87% of those surveyed agree: The government should regulate the cost of drugs.
  • 82% of those surveyed agree: The government should regulate the cost of healthcare.
  • 58% of those surveyed agree: The only way to fix healthcare is to remove the private insurers.

Impact of healthcare cost on decisions to seek care

Close to 70% of consumers expect the cost of healthcare to rise next year.  Moreover, the cost of healthcare is impacting not only consumers’ wallets, but also their decisions on what type of medical care to get (or not get), and when. Women make more decisions to delay or skip care than do men.

  • Those surveyed have done the following because of the cost:
  • 41% have skipped going to the doctor (34% of men compared to 48% of women).
  • 28% have delayed a medical procedure (21% of men compared to 35% of women).
  • 28% have not purchased medicine (23% of men compared to 32% of women).
  • 19% have rationed medicine.
  • 21% have sought out alternative medicine.
  • 39% have skipped a dentist visit (33% of men compared to 45% of women).
  • 37% have delayed a dental procedure (30% of men compared to 43% of women).

Cost of healthcare

Two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed expect the cost of healthcare to increase next year. Of Millennials, 61% expect cost increases; 76% of Gen Xers do; 73% of Baby Boomers do.

Issues encountered: changing providers, coverage, balance billing

Consumers indicated significant types and levels of change in their healthcare insurance costs, choice of provider and type of coverage. More than a quarter (26%) of those surveyed have switched insurance providers in the past five years, while 25% have made changes to their healthcare coverage.

In addition, 26% have been balance-billed (provider billed for the difference between the amount they charge and the amount that insurance paid).

Finally, one-third (32%) of respondents do not know the amount of their copay.

Consumers look to reduce payments, expand coverage

Of respondents with health insurance, 76% said that the cost of the monthly premium has influenced the plan they chose. While 87% agree that their current plan meets their needs, the majority want to see changes in their insurance plans.

  • 54% want to reduce their deductible.
  • 44% want to lower their monthly payment.
  • 31% want to expand coverage.
  • 27% want coverage for their entire family.

Close to half (46%) of those surveyed said that a $1,000 deductible was affordable. However, 44% do not know the amount of their annual deductible. Of those that do know, 38% said it is between $1 and $1,000.

Paying for medical expenses

The survey also looked at how consumers pay for medical expenses and medical emergencies, and their overall spending and savings habits.

  • 45% of those surveyed have used savings/cash on hand to pay for a medical expense in the past year; 42% have used a credit card; 19% have borrowed money from parents, relatives or friends.

If they needed $2,000 for a medical emergency, 35% of respondents would use savings/cash on hand, 32% would use a credit card, and 28% would ask their parents, relatives or friends.

Respondents were more likely to have the following benefits mixture:

Medical insurance

Dental insurance

Vision insurance

Health savings account (HSA)

401(K) retirement account

Life insurance

Assuming they had all of these benefits, respondents would be most likely to cut 401(K) deductions first in order to save money. This was followed by life insurance, dental insurance and eye/vision insurance.

Respondents said they were least likely to cut health insurance coverage in order to save money.

Mounting debt

Of survey respondents, 53% said they have credit card debt. Twenty-two percent have medical debt, 27% have a mortgage and 28% have an auto loan.

Of those with credit card debt, 55% said their total amount of credit card debt is less than $5,000. Of those with medical debt, 45% said their total amount of medical debt is less than $2,000.

Overall, 81% of Americans surveyed said they have debt.

  • 28% said the total amount is less than $5,000.
  • 12% said the total amount is between $5,000 and $9,999.
  • 26% said the total amount is between $10,000 and $49,999.
  • 10% said the total amount is between $50,000 and $99,999.
  • 18% said the total amount is between $100,000 and $249,999.

The debate on what to do about healthcare in the United States continues without a universal solution. Presidential candidates look to create and enact many different changes, ranging from tweaks to massive overhauls in the system. Yet Americans are remarkably united in their opinion that the cost of healthcare is a national emergency, and that government does need to pay a role in reining in the costs.

Methodology: Freedom Debt Relief, part of Freedom Financial Network commissioned Atomik Research to run an online survey of 1,507 adults, age 18-75, with and without health insurance, in the United States. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points with a confidence interval of 95 percent. The fieldwork took place September 23-27, 2019.

Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency.

Download the raw data here.


Michael Micheletti serves as the Director of Corporate Communications at Freedom Financial Network where he is responsible for the strategic communications planning, knowledge dissemination and outreach to key consumer audiences. Before joining Freedom he held a variety of high profile communication and consumer education roles focusing on healthcare, tax and housing. He is a former reporter for FOX News, CNN and served as news director for Clear Channel Radio San Francisco.