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Two In Five Americans Forced To Choose Between Basic Necessities And Healthcare, Poll Shows

More than one in four US adults couldn't afford their medical treatments. So they simply didn't get it.


Dr. Katie Spalding


Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

A sad woman looking at a bill
Damnit, I never should have got that cancer. Image Credit: Thomas Andre Fure/Shutterstock

Ah, America, land of the free. Well, not free, exactly – it costs something like $32,000 just to be born in the USA, and the bills don’t stop there. It’s no secret that healthcare in the US is expensive, with no universal provision and treatments costing many times the amount paid overseas. According to a new Gallup poll commissioned by the West Health group of nonprofits, that means that a lot of Americans are going without medical care.

In the first half of 2022 alone, over one in four US adults reported either delaying or skipping treatment due to the cost of healthcare. Even more – 38 percent in total, or more than three out of every eight people – reported having to take measures such as cutting back on driving, utilities, and food, or borrowing money to pay medical bills.


“People have been making tradeoffs to pay for healthcare for years,” said West Health President Timothy A. Lash in a statement. “Inflation has only made things worse as people are also now struggling with the high price of gas, food, and electricity.”

Unsurprisingly, lower-income families were hit harder by healthcare costs, with over half of those with household incomes of $24-48,000 making financial or medical sacrifices this year. Below $24,000, the rates were even higher, at nearly two out of every three American adults going without.

However, even higher-income families were feeling the pinch, with nearly one in five households earning more than $180,000 a year being forced to cut back.

Gallup poll showing proportions of Americans who have cut back on various spending habits.
More than one in four US adults have delayed or avoided medical care because it's simply too expensive. Image: West Health/Gallup 2022



“Inflation is hollowing out consumer spending habits across an array of areas,” said Dan Witters, senior researcher at Gallup. 

“What is found just under the surface is that after gas and groceries, the role of inflation in reducing the pursuit of needed care is large and significant. And the rising cost of care itself, which is originating from an already elevated level, is having an outsized impact on lessening other forms of spending, compounding the problem.”

While US citizens have seen some good news recently with regards to healthcare, with surprise bills being banned at the turn of the year and the extension of Medicaid throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the country still ranks lowest out of similar nations in terms of access to care, administrative efficiency, equity, and health-care outcomes.

Even when accounting for how medical bills are paid for – via single-payer systems in countries like the UK or Canada, or through insurance or out-of-pocket in the US – it’s Americans who pay more than their overseas compatriots, sometimes by double-digit factors. 


Take insulin, for example: in Australia, the average price of a unit of insulin, which diabetics need to stay alive, was less than $7 in 2018. In the US, it was $99 – more than 12 times as much as they pay down under, and nearly five times more than the second-most expensive insulin, which was found in Chile.

It’s not surprising, then, that the latest poll found that nearly two out of five Americans feel “extremely concerned” or “concerned” that they will be unable to pay for care in the next six months. It seems people are not hopeful that things can get better: all but six percent of those surveyed said that they were either “not at all confident” or “not too confident” that their own members of Congress will work to lower healthcare costs. 

“Congress has the power right now to reduce healthcare prices, particularly for prescription drugs,” Lash said. "Legislation is on the table.”


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