Nearly one-third of Americans skipped care in past three months due to cost

2 min
December 14, 2021

By Justine Coleman

December 14, 2021

Almost one-third of Americans skipped necessary medical care in the past three months because they could not afford it, according to a poll released Tuesday. 

The survey from the West Health Policy Center and Gallup found that 30 percent of participants said they opted out of healthcare due to the cost — a percentage that tripled from nine months ago, reaching its highest point during the pandemic. 

One-fifth of respondents said they or a household member saw their health problem worsen after delaying care because of the cost. 

Twenty percent of those from households that earn more than $120,000 also reported they postponed healthcare due to financial reasons — an increase from 3 percent in March. 

Tim Lash, president of the West Health Policy Center, told The Hill that the data showing those earning “significantly higher” than the median income struggling “tells you that we have a real problem.”

“It tells me that we’re at a breaking point and that it’s not just … those that are desperate are not just low-income  individuals but even those that are more affluent,” he said. “And we’re gonna have to find a way out of that.”

Almost a third of respondents said they would not have access to affordable care if they needed it today, compared to a spring survey in which 18 percent said the same. Plus, 42 percent said they worry they won’t be able to pay for necessary medical care within the next year.

“Decades of failed action and the current weakening of bold measures to lower costs, have left Americans at the close of the year viewing the future as bleak as the past,” a statement alongside the poll said.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened almost half of Americans’ views of the healthcare system, with 15 percent saying they had more trouble paying for care. Regardless of their political affiliation, two-thirds of Americans don’t expect policies to result in lower costs.

The survey shows the pandemic “compounded” issues of equity, Lash said. One of 20 respondents reported knowing a friend or relative who died over the past year after not getting needed care due to the cost, with Black Americans being twice as likely as white Americans to say they knew someone for whom that was true.

“It shows you how fragile our healthcare system is and how fragile families can be when they’re trying to access it,” Lash said.

The West Health-Gallup poll surveyed 6,663 American adults from all 50 states and D.C. between Sept. 27 and 30 and Oct. 18 and 21. The margin of error amounted to 1.5 percentage points.


Timothy Lash
President, Gary and Mary West Foundation
President, West Health Institute
President & Chair, West Health Policy Center