Around 1 in 3 Americans are delaying medical care as they cope with the financial losses and stress caused by COVID-19, new studies show.
Thirty-one percent of more than 9,000 adults surveyed in late March and early April said they haven't had medical care in the past month, are unable to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills, or don't have access to enough nutritious food, according to a new poll by the Urban Institute. In another survey released Tuesday, 29% of more than 2,200 adults surveyed said they had avoided medical care because they are concerned about contracting the virus, according to a Morning Consult-American College of Emergency Physicians poll conducted last week.
Delaying healthcare is a serious concern, said Dr. Allison Suttle, chief medical officer at Sanford Health. Measles immunizations, for instance, have dropped by about 50% in April year over year at the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based integrated health system, she said.
"Some of those vaccines are administered on a very scheduled basis in six-month windows," Suttle said. "Delaying care will increase healthcare costs, and if vaccinations are put off altogether and there is not a herd immunity to measles, there could be an outbreak."
Hospitals have been forced to delay elective procedures like knee replacements and cataract surgeries to make room for COVID-19 cases. But the surveys support other data that indicate that Americans are putting off treatment of acute conditions that require immediate care.
Cigna Corp.'s review of the insurer's claims data and preauthorizations over the past few months revealed that hospitalization rates for atrial fibrillation decreased 35% over the two months, similar to six other hospitalization rates for other acute conditions that declined.
"We have to make sure that people know it is safe to get healthcare," Suttle said.
The Urban Institute poll found that the financial ripple effect of the coronavirus is acutely impacting minorities and low-income families.
More than half of the 42% of families that have lost jobs or income were Hispanic and reported incomes below the federal poverty level. Among adults in families that lost work or income, 47% reduced spending on food, 58% put off major purchases and 44% tapped savings or increased credit card debt.
"The pandemic has shed a spotlight on long-standing inequities that have taken a toll on low-income Americans and people of color," Mona Shah, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the Urban Institute survey, said in prepared remarks. "If families are unable to stay in their homes, can't afford food, or have to skip needed medical care, this crisis will worsen the already enormous problem of inequality in America."
In addition to cost, nearly three-quarters of Americans surveyed by Morning Consult and ACEP said they avoided healthcare because they were concerned about stressing the system. Nearly 60% said they were worried that they will not be able to get treated by a doctor if they need care, with lower-income adults among those most concerned about access.
"Waiting to see a doctor if you think you're having a medical emergency could be life threatening," Dr. William Jaquis, president of ACEP, said in prepared remarks. "While it's important to stay home and follow social-distancing guidelines, it's critical to always know when to go to the emergency department."