Study: 40 percent of Americans report skipping a visit to the doctor to save money

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Doctors in Columbus said they've seen first hand what researchers nationally are sounding the alarm about: People are putting off medication or diagnostic tests because they're afraid of the bills that come with them.

A primary care physician with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said it is common.

Dr. Randall Wexler said "Patients declining medical recommendations due to concerns out of cost is common. It is something I deal with on a weekly if not daily basis. However, it is more than just not coming in for an office visit. Patients will often refuse recommended diagnostic testing out of concern for cost. In addition, patients often forgo medical treatment for the same reason."

About 40 percent of Americans report skipping a recommended medical test or treatment, and 44 percent say they didn't go to a doctor when they were sick or injured in the last year because of cost. That's according to a new national poll from NORC at the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute.

The question is this: What is behind it all?

"One thing to understand is that Ohio has one of the largest penetrations of high-deductible health plans," said Dr. Wexler. "Because of this, many patients have a high bar to hit before their insurance covers any of their medical needs which exacerbates this in Ohio."

The February poll looked at more than 1,300 adults. According to the survey, most Americans do not feel they are getting a good value for their healthcare money. About 30 percent said that over the last year they had to choose between paying for medical bills or basic necessities like food and housing.

More people fear the medical bills that come with a serious illness than fear the illness itself. Those who reported skipping a recommended test or treatment were about two times more likely to fear getting sick. About one in three people in the study reported they did not fill a prescription or took less than the prescribed dose to save money.

Dental care also suffered. Nearly half say they went without a routine cleaning or check up over the last year. 39 percent say they did not go to the dentist when they needed treatment. 36 percent said they had to use up all or most of their savings, 32 percent report borrowing money or increasing credit card debt and 41 percent say they decreased contributions to a savings plan because of healthcare expenses.

Dr. Wexler offered a few steps people can take to make getting the right care more affordable.

"A number of things can be done to help mitigate cost," said Dr. Wexler. "One, is to ask your provider if the medication being recommended may be obtainable for free or at low cost. Many pharmacies do provide certain medications either for free or at a very low cost. For routine laboratory assessments, participate in health fairs where you can generally get your cholesterol and sugar checked, as well as your blood pressure evaluated. Some offices will offer discounts for cash payment, but patients need to be sure to be clear about the rules. In many instances, it is only for those without coverage, not those with high-deductible health plans."

"Finally, some patients may be eligible for sliding scale deductibles based on income at offices serving populations in health professional shortage areas," said Dr. Wexler.

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