Americans are seeking less healthcare as costs rise
Ten years ago, I was rushing my four year old son to the ICU at Saint Francis Children’s Hospital. He had was I thought was an ear infection and had been sick for several days. But on the morning of February 5, 2010, it all went wrong.
I had been sleeping on the floor of Christopher’s room with him every night while he was sick and that morning, we woke up and he said, “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom, but I can’t move my legs.”
I’m sure that you know exactly how scary that sentence was.
I threw on some shoes and in my pajamas, rushed him to the nearest urgent care. After a quick examination, I was told he needed to go to the emergency room at Saint Francis Children’s Hospital and that they had already been alerted and would be waiting for us. I was also told that the police had been informed we were on our way and to drive as quickly as I safely could.
The whole way there, all I could think about was how much I had failed as a mother. I had failed to notice that my son didn’t have an ear infection. I had failed to realize that this was an illness that was much more significant. I was just hoping and praying that whatever it was, we had caught it in time and I wouldn’t lose him.
At the hospital, they didn’t even wait to get him to a room or have me complete any of the lengthy check-in procedures. They did a spinal tap in a hallway and walked the sample down to the lab and waited for the results. He had bacterial meningitis. It was bad. One more day, they said, and we may not have been able to save him.
We spent three days in ICU and another 2 weeks and 2 days in the hospital. I left twice during that time, both times because my mother made me take a break. I worked in his hospital room during the day and all night we laid in his bed and watched Phineas and Ferb. He had a feeding tube and so many tubes and machines hooked up to him.
We saw specialist after specialist to determine what the long term effects of the illness might be. After two weeks, he was finally able to go down to the play area for a short time, in a wheelchair. He still couldn’t walk.
We were preparing to go home and continue his care there with a port and home health worker visits. We were preparing for a new life with a child that had lost the ability to use his legs. He had also lost about 50% of his hearing and vision.
The day before we went home, Christopher took a drastic turn for the better. He asked to go down to the play area, which we did. The physical therapist met us there to test his leg function and Christopher said he wanted to walk so badly that he just would. And he did.
Watching my son take those steps was even more precious to me than the first steps he took as a toddler.
Over the next few weeks, he continued to improve and eventually regained all of his sight and all of the hearing in one ear. The other ear remains at 50% loss of hearing. But that hasn’t slowed him down in life one bit.
Christopher at 6 years old. He is 14 now.
Unfortunately, my story is not unusual. With the rising costs of health care, many people are waiting longer to seek medical care or just not visiting the doctor at all.
According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, “Overall healthcare costs — including all private and public spending — are anticipated to rise by an average of 5.5 percent per year over the next decade — growing from $3.5 trillion in 2017 to $6 trillion by 2027. Healthcare spending is projected to grow faster than the economy, increasing from 17.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to 19.4 percent of GDP in 2027.”
A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that visits to primary care providers made by adults under the age of 65 had dropped by nearly 25% from 2008 to 2016. Their results suggest that the decline in visits is based on a decreased perceived need of visits, financial deterrents, and the use of alternative sources of care. The drop was seen across all demographics.
In states where the Affordable Care Act has made preventative visits free or at a lower cost for more Americans, there was an increase in preventative care visits, but problem-based visits, such as for an illness or recurring problem, dropped by 30%.
The main reason analysts believe that health care visits have dropped in the last decade is due to the rising out-of-pocket costs for patients with co-pay costs rising from an average of $30 to an average of $40 during the course of the study.
Health insurance costs have also increased for employees. According to HealthData.org, “Five factors contribute to the rise in health care costs in the US: (1) more people; (2) an aging population; (3) changes in disease prevalence or incidence; (4) increases in how often people use health care services; and (5) increases in the price and intensity of services.”
A study by Lending Tree looked at annual premiums from 2013 compared to 2018 and the increase in healthcare spending per capita from 2005 to 2014. They found that health insurance premiums are up 20% nationwide from 2013 to 2018 and healthcare expenditures have increased 40% over a 10 year period.
On average most employee health insurance plans split between an 80% contribution by the employer and a 20% contribution by the employee. Pew Research suggests that the rising cost of employer contributions to health insurance premiums is causing wage stagnation. Employer based insurance premiums are increasing 5-6% year over year according to Pew Research, while wages have only increased 2-3% year over year over the last five years.
Stagnant wages and an increase in the costs for employee contributions to health insurance premiums, in addition to the rising cost for co-pays keep people out of the doctor’s office.
The Lending Tree study showed that Oklahoma (my state) saw the fourth highest increase in premiums from 2013 to 2018 in the nation with annual premiums costing $5,129 in 2013 and $6,630 in 2018, an increase of 29.26%. Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska saw higher increases of 30.05-31.70%. Oklahoma also saw a 42.14% increase in health care costs. Twenty-seven other states had increases between 40-50%. Five states had an increase of over 50% and only one state, Tennessee, had an increase of less than 30%.
I am a prime example of what is being seen across the nation. I recently injured my foot, but opted not to visit a doctor. I assumed they would tell me to RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) and take some ibuprofen. I dealt with the pain for several months, which at best would make me limp and at worst had me in tears.
I finally decided to visit the doctor after it became increasingly hard to walk at all. And I was told to RICE and take ibuprofen and they ordered an x-ray, which I had to go to the hospital to get. $30 co-pay, $25 x-ray, $300 hospital visit. The x-ray showed nothing wrong. If I was still in pain, revisit the doctor. The pain was worse so I went back to the doctor. $30 co-pay. I was referred to a bone and joint specialist, $50 co-pay, who took more x-rays and then referred me to a foot specialist. Another $50 co-pay and more x-rays later, no one knew what was wrong with my foot. I was referred for an MRI.
This is the point where I decided to stop seeking medical care. I had already spent almost $500 and had no answers at all. I haven’t received bills for the second two sets of x-rays yet, so that amount may increase. $500 is a lot of money to my family. That’s three weeks’ worth of groceries for our family of six. I do know that nothing was broken or fractured, so I resumed self-treatment and I am no longer in constant pain because of my foot.
Christopher’s stay in the hospital plus all of the visits to specialists, home healthcare, and follow-up appointments cost well over $100,000. At the time, it was three times our gross household income.
Has there been a time when you avoided seeking health care because of the cost? Would you like to know more about the solutions presidential candidates are proposing? Leave a comment below!