COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores Disparities in US Health Care System

April 29, 2020

One out of 7 US adults reported that they would avoid seeking health care for a fever and dry cough for fear of not being able to pay for it.

Gallup’s recent report evaluating the rising cost of health care in the United States found that 14% of adults in the United States would not visit their health care provider for a fever and dry cough–the most common symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – because of concerns about affording it.1

Gallup’s recent report is part of their ongoing study in conjunction with West Health to evaluate US public opinion on the cost of health care. It was conducted from April 1 through April 14, 2020.1

The report underlines the socioeconomic issues informing who is at highest risk for avoiding health care in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic; adults under the age of 30 who are non-white, possess a high school education or less, and with household incomes below $40,000, are most likely to avoid care for themselves or a family member.1

Fifteen million adults told Gallup that they have already been denied care as hospitals experience increasingly severe strain, leading to turning away of individuals who may test positive for the virus.1

Gallup and West Health also reported that 66% of US adults have experienced price increases of their prescription medications since 2017; 23% disclosed that they have not have enough money to pay for prescriptions they needed at least once.2

The report is based on data collected from 1020 adults in the United States, across all 50 states, between February 17 through 28, 2020.2

In a separate interview with Drug Topics®, B. Lee Green, vice president of diversity and strategic communications at Moffitt Cancer Center, agreed that the current pandemic has exposed the holes in the US health care system.

“COVID-19 basically highlighted long existing health disparities for minority communities. It is shining the light on the fact that we have a long way to go in addressing health disparities. We have certainly made progress, but there are a lot more efforts that need to be undertaken to address health disparities,” Green said in an email to Drug Topics®.

“Minorities tend to be underinsured or have no insurance – this obviously limits their ability to seek necessary care and treatments.  When they do access the health care system they tend to come in when it is too late – which in turns puts them in a late diagnosis or advanced diagnosis – which is harder to recover from,” Green said.

Not only are some Americans facing a disproportionately higher risk of being infected with COVID-19, but they also must also deal with the added threat of losing their jobs. Gallup asserted that these demographics are now “suffering extreme economic hardship,” on top of the already high cost of health care: Americans have accrued approximately $88 billion in borrowing over the last year for health care.1

Though the Trump administration has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which offered COVID-19 testing itself without cost, hospitals still have the ability to charge patients for their care, resulting in potentially costing individuals thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.1

Other legislative pursuits that tackle US health care disparity include House bill HR 3–also known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act–which passed the HOR on December 12, 2019. The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not offered any intention of moving toward the vote, according to Gallup.2

References:

1. Witters D. In U.S., 14% With Likely COVID-19 to Avoid Care Due to Cost. Gallup. April 28, 2020. https://news.gallup.com/poll/309224/avoid-care-likely-covid-due-cost.aspx. Accessed April 28, 2020.
2. Witters D. In U.S., 66% Report Increase in Cost of Prescription Drugs. Gallup. April 28, 2020. https://news.gallup.com/poll/308036/report-increase-cost-prescription-drugs.aspx. Accessed April 28, 2020.