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The Big Story: Record High in U.S. Put Off Medical Care Due to Cost in 2022

“The percentage of Americans reporting they or a family member postponed medical treatment in 2022 due to cost rose 12 points in one year, to 38%, the highest in Gallup’s 22-year trend.”

What it Means for You

3-minute read

By David Jarrard

More people than at any time in the last 20 years say they are putting off the healthcare they need because it’s just too expensive.

We all know where this goes, and it’s not a good place.

  • The care delayed now often leads to more urgent and more care later.
  • Left unattended and unanswered, the scrutiny and actions that follow will not be friendly to providers.

Money – how you talk about it, spend it, your need for it, your intent with it, the cost of your care – is a significant risk point for providers, fundamentally shaping everything from consumer decisions to major media coverage to policy making. We’ll dig into this more soon as we unpack the findings from our latest national consumer survey to be released later this month.

For today, let’s focus first on the people who matter most: your patients.

Like Gallup, our survey finds that nearly one in three say they or someone in their household have delayed medical care due to its cost. In fact, a majority of people who describe themselves as “poor” – the most vulnerable people you serve – say they have delayed getting the care they need.

This issue impacts your organization at every turn: your duty of care and to your mission, your patient volume, your revenue, your staffing models… on and on.

On top of that, there is a host of significant policy, economic and regulatory issues to address. You’re at the brunt end of a broken healthcare payment system, and you have work to do to change it before you – and all of us – are wrecked by it.

But can we be real with each other? Most of your patients just don’t care about those issues right now. Today, they just hurt. Or their kids or parents are in need.

So, let’s start with how to get your patients who need your care through your doors.

  1. Practice practical price transparency. Get comfortable talking about the cost of your services, providing real estimates for the care your patients are seeking, and make it easy for them to learn about – and access – financial support for it.
  2. Use patient language. Check your vocabulary and train your patient-facing team to ensure you are clearly talking about what your services are, what it costs them, and how they can pay for their portion of it. Technical definitions and tiny print create mistrust. And fearful patients avoid care.
  3. Make cash king. If possible – check with your CFO – offer a cash price for select services. We’ve all heard the stories of patients trying to pay cash and being told either “We don’t know how to do that” or, “It’s cheaper to go through insurance.” Don’t make it harder for people to pay now.
  4. Market the money. Include in your marketing materials, websites, etc. information about cost, insurance options, financial assistance and how you’re working to make care more accessible. “We accept most insurance” is a fine place to start. In fact, our new survey shows that knowing their care is covered by insurance is a top factor in what provider to choose when shopping for care.

Insurance and insurers

Of course, payers are a significant beneficiary of delayed care. Less care means fewer claims to pay even as premiums go up. UnitedHealth Group just saw revenue rise 13 percent last year, up to $324.2 billion. Profits are massive, meaning that “the gap between provider and payer profits continues to widen.” Every time an insured patient skips an appointment, those numbers tick up.

As patients worry about costs, providers struggle to hit single-digit margins, insurance revenues soar and tension mounts. Two thoughts on staying ahead of tomorrow’s compounding troubles:

  1. If you see a tough insurance negotiation on the horizon, get in front of it now. Develop the right story – hint, it’s mostly about money – and tell it to the influential opinion leaders whose support you’ll need if your talks become unhappy and public.
  2. Though it can appear otherwise in the heat of a negotiation, the future of healthcare will be built through partnerships. Join your leadership team by engaging insurers about new models and innovative approaches to care delivery and reimbursement. Find ways to spread costs and savings across all stakeholders. Better outcomes and lower costs are good for everyone…and it’s better to drive to a solution than be swept up by panaceas others will certainly offer.

We know talking about money is hard. No one wants to be taught business literacy when they’re just looking for a doctor. But it’s a living conversation that requires mastery of your financial lexicon.

Don’t delay.

Money Matters: The Rising Standard for Healthcare

Our latest national consumer survey will be released on January 31. Get updates and be among the first to see the full report.


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