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American health care is ‘broken’ and ‘expensive,’ Floridians say

A new national survey shows negative views of the health care system accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurse Alix Zacharski, right, sanitizes her hands as others care for a patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23. Floridians are growing increasingly anxious about health care costs and unequal access to care as the pandemic continues with no end in sight, according to a new national survey.
Nurse Alix Zacharski, right, sanitizes her hands as others care for a patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23. Floridians are growing increasingly anxious about health care costs and unequal access to care as the pandemic continues with no end in sight, according to a new national survey. [ JOSE A. IGLESIAS | el Nuevo Herald ]
Published Dec. 23, 2021

Floridians are growing increasingly anxious about health care costs and unequal access to care as the pandemic continues with no end in sight, according to a new national survey.

An estimated 100 million Americans would describe the health care system as either “expensive” or “broken,” according to the West Health-Gallup 2021 Healthcare in America Report. Almost half say their view of the system has worsened in the era of COVID-19.

The United States spends nearly $4 trillion on health care, making it the most expensive system in the world. Yet it produces the worst outcomes in categories such as life expectancy, obesity rates, chronic disease burdens and suicide rates, compared to other high-income countries, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

“Health care is an industry,” said West Health chief strategy officer Tim Lash. “We do one thing really well in the U.S. health system, and that’s cost.”

The nation’s top one percent experience the best health outcomes, Lash said, but those outcomes get worse as income decreases: “It is all of us (who) can struggle and be affected by these costs.”

The survey was conducted online by Gallup and West Health, a group of organizations aimed at reducing healthcare costs. It’s billed as the largest health care survey since the start of the pandemic, querying 6,663 participants across the nation. They answered questions over two time periods, one Sept. 27-30 and another Oct. 18-21.

The survey shows the majority of Americans are more worried about the cost of services and prescription drugs amid the pandemic. Nine in 10 people surveyed said they expect their health care costs to increase. Many are worried they won’t be able to pay those costs, adding to their daily stress.

The Floridians surveyed feel the same as their fellow Americans.

Nearly 30 percent of Floridians report health care costs are a major financial burden. Seven in 10 Americans agree that their household pays too much for the quality of care they receive.

The number of Americans who’ve skipped needed medical care due to cost is also spiking, the survey shows. A third of the respondents said they had done so, which is the highest that number has been since the onset of the pandemic.

The negative feelings are being felt across a number of different income levels. About 20 percent of households earning more than $120,000 a year say cost still impedes them from seeking care. One in 20 adults report knowing someone who died because they could not afford treatment. For Black Americans, that likelihood doubled.

“It has a human impact in terms of lost lives and lost years,” Lash said. “It’s clear that there is this awakening in terms of the challenges families are facing, but there is a disproportionate impact on families of color.”

Mounting health inequities nationwide — driven in part by unequal access to care — is an added cause of concern for 60 percent of the survey participants. Among Black Americans, that concern rises to almost 75 percent.

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“The sharp worsening in public opinion regarding the affordability of care and medicine is startling,” said a statement from Gallup senior researcher Dan Witters. “From rapidly rising inflation, to deferred care pushed into 2021, to more people having to pay for COVID-19 care itself, the U.S. healthcare cost crisis is now coming to a head.”

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Tampa Bay Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.