A Shocking Number Of Americans Know Someone Who Died Due To Unaffordable Care

2 min
November 12, 2019

By Jeffrey Young

November 12, 2019

In the last five years, 34 million Americans watched as someone they knew died after they couldn’t afford medical treatment, according to a survey report that Gallup and West Health published Tuesday.

That means 13% of Americans personally knew someone who died who didn’t get the medical care they knew they needed because they couldn’t afford it.

Reflecting the deep disparities in the economy and the healthcare system endured by racial minorities and low-income people, nonwhites and the people who earn the least money were about twice as likely to report knowing someone who died under these circumstances, the survey reveals.

Twenty percent of nonwhite respondents reported knowing someone who died because of unaffordable healthcare, twice the share of white people. Similarly, 19% of those living in households with incomes below $40,000 annually had this experience, compared with 11% of those earning $40,000 to $100,000 and 9% of those with higher incomes.

Americans older than 65 were the least likely to report knowing someone in this situation, perhaps reflecting Medicare’s universal coverage of retirees. Among adults ages 18 to 44, 17% said they knew someone who died because of high healthcare costs, more than the 12% of those 45 to 64 and 7% of people older than 65.

“It’s outrageous in the United States that so many people have lost a family member or friend simply because the cost of healthcare is so high,” Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, said in a news release. “It is a tragic statement on the state of healthcare in America.” The polling company Gallup and West Health, a consortium of nonprofits focused on lowering healthcare costs for older Americans, polled 1,099 U.S. adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in September.

The Affordable Care Act reduced the national uninsured rate to a historic low via a Medicaid expansion, the availability of private health insurance coverage regardless of preexisting conditions and the creation of subsidies for low- and middle-income people. Last year, 8.5% of U.S. residents, or about 28 million people, were uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But that law didn’t stop U.S. healthcare providers and drugmakers from charging the highest prices in the world. In addition, a growing number of Americans who have private health insurance face high out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles that require the insured to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket before coverage benefits kick in.

Those are among the reasons why 45% of Americans were “underinsured” last year, meaning patients are left responsible for a larger share of their medical expenses than they can afford, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based research institute. Among those underinsured Americans, 41% delayed medical care because of cost and 47% reported trouble paying medical bills.