People delay getting the care that they need for a wide variety of reasons—but whatever their reasoning, rising rates of deferred care is both a symptom and a cause of a struggling system. Whenever someone decides they won’t go to the doctor, buy medication, or get a routine checkup, they are choosing to defer care. Why is this a problem?
Rising rates of care deferral can actually stress the medical system as a whole when those people finally decide to get the care they need. Lower rates of people receiving medical services can fool the medical system into thinking less resources are needed in some areas. When the trend reverses, medical infrastructure comes under duress.
Why do people decide to defer healthcare? How can we convince them to go to the doctor? And what is this trend costing the American economy and medical system?
COVID-19 and Deferred Healthcare
Let’s start by talking about the largest single cause in recent years of consistent healthcare deferral: the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID caused all sorts of disruptions to the way our medical system works and how people access it. But one of the most impactful things it did is scare people away from medical centers and hospitals.
And for good reason.
Before vaccines radically reduced the death and hospitalization rate of COVID, catching it could be a death sentence for a significant number of Americans. Suddenly, going to get your teeth cleaned didn’t seem so important.
Hospitals naturally had the highest concentrations of infectious COVID patients at any given time, largely discouraging patients with non-life threatening conditions from coming in for treatment.
According to an American Hospital Association study done in September of 2020, roughly “41% of U.S. adults delayed or avoided medical care as of June 30 (2020). This includes urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%).”
These numbers can serve as a framework for what might constitute particularly high levels of healthcare deferral, mostly based on concretely founded fears of COVID infection.
The COVID numbers are concerning, but with pandemic fears lessening, many of those who deferred care have already or soon will return to normal care schedules.
The bigger problem is the increasing cost of healthcare and the average American’s ability to afford it.
Even when people have secure healthcare plans through their employer, many are unable to afford the care they need. Over 54% of Americans claim that they have put off getting some kind of medical care because of cost, and 23% say that they’ve done so for over a year.
This means that even when Americans are covered by healthcare plans, their deductibles are often too high.
Another issue related to cost is that healthcare plans and systems are extremely complicated. Even the basics of the deductible system aren’t all that simple, and there’s no doubt that plenty of Americans forget to charge, or improperly charge some percentage of their annual medical care towards their deductible. Sometimes people defer care simply because they don’t understand how to use the system, even when it’s properly set up for them.
Even worse, around 40% of Americans say that they couldn’t afford a $1,000 emergency medical situation, if one were to arise. As many healthcare deductibles are well over the $1,000 mark, there’s often little incentive for those with healthcare to start paying down that deductible when they could simply avoid care altogether.
The simple fact is that Americans are scared to go to the doctor, and this lack of trust in the costs of the medical system will end up being incredibly expensive for the entire system.
Of the five leading causes of death in the U.S., four are preventable, either by preventative tests and regular doctors checkups, or by lifestyle choices. The problem of deferred healthcare is costing us our trust in the medical system, and thereby costing us lives.
It’s only by fixing the rising costs of healthcare in general that we might be able to rebuild peoples’ trust in our medical system. And to do that, we will need entrepreneurs to disrupt the medical market, finding new ways to lower costs and make healthcare affordable for all Americans.