While many patients are avoiding office visits over fears they could catch COVID-19, doctors say the primary reason jobless Americans are staying away from healthcare providers is because they can’t afford to seek medical care, The New York Times reported.
Kristina Hartman of Texas should know.
The 58-year-old North Garland resident lost her job as administrator and had little choice but to cut back on health appointments.
Hartman missed a scheduled visit to her kidney doctor and has postponed seeing her endocrinologist. While she still has health insurance, Hartman told the Times she’s worried whether coverage will expire when her unemployment payments are exhausted soon.
“It started out as a total fear of going to the doctor,” she told the newspaper. “I definitely am avoiding appointments.”
Hartman is among the growing number of U.S. residents who are now choosing to avoid the doctor over costs.
Healthcare providers nationwide say patients are staying away due to fear of becoming the next coronavirus statistic. But unemployed patients are telling their doctors they simply can’t afford it.
“We are seeing the financial pressure hit,” Dr. Bijoy Telivala, a cancer specialist in Jacksonville, Florida, told the Times. “This is a real worry.”
Patients fear if they spend money on healthcare, there won’t be enough to feed the family, the doctor added.
“You don’t want a five-year-old going hungry,” Telivala said.
The decision to avoid the doctor comes as the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 has exceeded 116,900, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In addition, the Associated Press reported data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer group that collects testing data in the U.S., revealed Monday (June 15) that the rolling seven-day average of new cases per capita was higher than the average seven days earlier in 21 states.
A survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit focused on healthcare issues facing the nation, revealed nearly half of all Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed care since the coronavirus gripped the country in March.
While most of the respondents said they expected to get care within 90 days, one third said they will wait even longer or not go at all. The survey didn’t ask why they planned to wait or not go.
But Liz Hamel, Kaiser’s director of public opinion and survey research, told the Times there’s plenty of evidence that medical bills can be a powerful deterrent.
“We know historically we have always seen large shares of people who have put off care for cost reasons,” she said.
Sara Collins, an executive at the Commonwealth Fund, a New York foundation that works to achieve better access, improved quality and greater efficiency in the nation’s healthcare system, said the U.S. is in the midst of a major economic recession.
“It’s going to have an effect on people’s demand for health care,” she told the paper.
The crisis will get worse, according to Chas Roades, the co-founder of Gist Healthcare, which advises hospitals and doctors.
“It’s going to be a jerky start back,” Dr. Gary LeRoy, a physician in Dayton, Ohio, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Times.