The U.S. can’t afford to see this happen if it wants to fight the coronavirus epidemic.
The CDC has urged people to call their doctors or local health departments if they develop probable COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and a dry cough, a vital move to get people tested and tracki the spread of the virus before the economy can reopen.
But one in seven Americans say in a new West Health and Gallup poll that they would avoid seeking medical care if they experienced these key symptoms because they’re afraid of the financial cost of treating the disease.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults between April 1-14, 2020 as part of an ongoing study to get public opinion on the cost of healthcare.
And 14% of respondents said they would skip getting medical help if they or a family member had a cough and a fever because of concerns about the cost of care. What’s more, almost one in 10 (9%) would still avoid getting medical help even if they suspected themselves of explicitly having the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and not just exhibiting similar symptoms.
This worry about the cost of treating COVID-19 fell along clear socioeconomic lines.
The groups most likely to avoid care included more than 20% of adults who were under 30, non-white, had a high school education or less, and made under $40,000 a year.
Gallup noted that certain socioeconomic groups are generally less willing to seek out medical care because they simply can’t afford it: Black and Hispanic-Americans are less likely to have health insurance than non-Hispanic whites, for example, and lower-income households are more influenced by cost when considering whether to follow their doctors’ orders.
This aligns with a Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted in March, which found that more than one-third (36%) of respondents were worried about being able to afford testing or treatment — and two-thirds of those who didn’t have health insurance expressed concern about the cost of treatment and testing.
Congress recently passed the Families First relief act to make coronavirus testing free, however. And most of America’s major health insurers have agreed to waive co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests.
But being treated for COVID-19 could be an entirely different story, costing up to $20,000, according to a recent analysis by Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker. It found that even people with health insurance through their employer could pay more than $1,300 in out-of-pocket costs if they’re hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.
What’s more, some stories about steep COVID-19-related medical bills have spread, such as a Miami man who reportedly racked up $3,270 in hospital charges when he was tested after a work trip to China, or a Pennsylvania man who set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for $3,918 in surprise bills after he was evacuated from China and quarantined with his three-year-old daughter.
Last month, Vice President Mike Pence assured that “there will be no surprise billing,” however. The IRS also announced that high-deductible health plans can cover coronavirus-related testing and treatment.
Many people are in no condition for sky-high medical bills at the moment.
After all, a record 26 million Americans are out of work due to coronavirus-tied layoffs. While the government has set aside $290 billion put aside for direct payments to individuals to help them cope with the pandemic, one in three Americans fear the first stimulus checks won’t sustain them for even a month. Most already say that they need a second relief check to make ends meet. The economic stimulus payments are available up to $1,200 for individuals earning less than $99,000, and $2,400 for married couples making less than $198,000.
Gallup notes that seeking care when showing COVID-19 symptoms or when someone suspects they may have been infected by the virus is a critical part of combatting the outbreak, as increased testing is key to reopening the economy. The White House is planning to double coronavirus testing in May in an effort to get states to start lifting their lockdown restrictions and reopen their economies.