Fact Checked

Boomers and Gen Xers skipping medical care because of high costs

Close-up of stethoscope on paper U.S. currencyImage: Close-up of stethoscope on paper U.S. currency
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When most people get sick, they go to the doctor. But rising medical costs are beginning to make doctor visits feel like a luxury for many baby boomers and Gen Xers.

A new survey by NORC at the University of Chicago and West Health Institute shows that 40% of Americans who responded admit to skipping a recommended medical test or treatment in the previous 12 months. What’s more, 44% of respondents admit they didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick or injured.

The culprit? Steep medical costs that have made healthcare unattainable for some.

About 30% of those surveyed said they had to choose between paying for healthcare or paying for basic necessities such as food, heat or housing.

Rising medical costs have been especially hard on baby boomers and Gen Xers. In the survey, 49% of Gen Xers (ages 45 to 59) reported not going to the doctor when sick or injured, and 25% of baby boomers (ages 60+) reported skipping a recommended medical test or treatment.

Younger adults say they go without care more often than baby boomers and Gen Xers, but they may be better able to afford skipping the doctor than their older counterparts.

What does this actually mean?

Think high-priced healthcare only affects those without insurance? Think again.

In a recent statement to Forbes, Dr. Zia Agha, chief medical officer at the West Health Institute, noted that health insurance isn’t necessarily a shield against high costs.

“Eighty percent of the people we surveyed had health insurance,” he said, “so just having insurance does not make you immune to healthcare costs.”

If you’ve ever been shocked by a medical bill and stressed about how to pay it, you probably know what Agha means. And the notion that Americans pay far too much for healthcare is more widespread than you may think.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans agree that the U.S. doesn’t get good value for what the country spends on healthcare. That’s a problem, because the U.S. spends roughly twice as much per person on healthcare compared with other industrialized countries.

Why should you care?

Healthcare policy has been a contentious issue in Washington since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The comprehensive health care reform law sought to make health insurance more affordable for more people, but there’s still a long way to go.

In spite of widespread dissatisfaction over what the U.S. spends on healthcare, a majority of those surveyed believe Congress should vote to increase spending on Medicare (56%) and Social Security (53%).

On the other hand, only 37% want to see an increase in ACA spending.

The future of healthcare likely depends on the politicians in Congress and the White House, but nearly every American would be affected by changes in healthcare policy.

What can you do?

There’s little doubt that the high cost of healthcare is deterring people from seeking medical attention.

If you’re thinking about skipping an operation, test or other medical treatment because of the high cost, consider all your options first. You may be able to find a lower-cost alternative to traditional health insurance.

  • Consider a direct primary care membership. Think of a direct primary care membership as a health club membership for the doctor’s office. Members pay a monthly, quarterly or annual fee to a specific healthcare entity in exchange for fully or mostly covered primary care services, including access to clinical, laboratory and consultative services. Note that some services are not covered by the fee, and you may want to look into an additional policy for emergencies.
  • Check the healthcare marketplace. Look into the HealthCare.gov marketplace and see which health insurance plans you’re eligible for. The website also provides resources for paying premiums and reducing out-of-pocket costs.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of a high-deductible policy. If you’re young and don’t expect to use your health insurance often, a high-deductible policy may be your best bet. These policies have lower monthly premiums than standard health insurance but come with higher deductibles when seeking care, so you’ll pay more out of pocket throughout the year before your insurance kicks in.

About the author: Andrew Kunesh is a finance and technology writer from Chicago. He’s passionate about helping others maximize their money and purchases. When he’s not writing, you’ll find Andrew traveling the world in search of the pe… Read more.