Health-care access and delays: A true crisis in America

A recent Gallup poll notes that three in 10 Americans delayed seeking medical care due to cost — a true testament as to why America needs to solve its health-care access crisis.

The notion that approximately 19 percent of all U.S. adults delayed treatment for serious or somewhat serious conditions or illness carries serious consequences particularly for diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and a myriad of other acute and chronic conditions that may be amenable to early diagnosis and treatment.

ADVERTISEMENT
Similar findings from a recent Care Payment survey send a clarion call that we need to fix our health-care delivery system now.  

Each day people are deciding between seeking care or perhaps placing food on their tables. According to a recent New York Times story, Pam Leonard, a Wisconsin school teacher, deferred treatment for a palpable breast lump for fear of high deductibles. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer.

The fear of medical debt is real causing some to make such life-compromising decisions.

As newly elected officials usher in a new Congressional session, they will be challenged to find solutions to our nation’s health-care crisis.

This is particularly important as findings from a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that 71 percent of respondents voted health care as their top priority during the 2018 midterm election.

Results from a 2018 Harris Poll show that 54 percent of Americans delayed medical care in the past t2 months. Fifty-five percent delayed dental/ orthodontic work, 43 percent delayed eye care and 30 percent deferred annual exams. All of these areas of health if left unattended may lead to adverse outcomes including higher health-care costs and emotional distress.

Prescription drugs are also part of the expense of seeking care and perhaps a factor in delaying treatment. The growth of spending in this area is expected to grow an average of 6.3 percent per year in part due to increasing drug prices and also use of specialty drugs.

Health care providers frequently prescribe generic drugs or provide samples to patients as one means of addressing the high cost of prescription drugs, some of which may be lifesaving.

Many have heard of the horrid stories that lead to unforeseen medical bills. As nurses we have witnessed the devastating impact of delayed care on patients and families.

Caring for patients with uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes, for example, that has progressed to more severe complications is quite disheartening. The cost of living with these complications extends beyond high health-care costs but also influences quality and longevity of life.

Many patients are surprised by charges such as a facility fee just for walking in the door as opposed to the past where insurances would cover that fee. Add to that the costs of seeing out of network providers working at in network facilities and a patient can quickly incur thousands of dollars in medical debt.

Those of us in the health-care professions devote considerable time and resources to eliminating preventable harm or adverse events in health care, the trend of delays in seeking medical care is also a preventable harm in need of our immediate attention.

Janice Phillips RN PhD, is an associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing and the director of nursing research and health equity at the Rush University Medical Center. Maria Alonso BSN, s a board certified registered nurse at Rush Oak Park Hospital. Both are Public Voices fellows with The OpEd Project. ​