Healthcare struggles highest in Southwest Virginia, respondents suggest personal and political remedies

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National angst about healthcare affordability is well documented, now The Virginia Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey asked more than 1,100 Virginia adults about how they are accessing – or not accessing – healthcare.

The survey covered the state, but found that residents of the Southwest Region, which includes Montgomery County, experienced the highest level of healthcare “affordability burdens” in Virginia.

Those burdens include being uninsured due to high premiums and delaying or forgoing healthcare due to cost.

The survey was administered this spring by Altarum a healthcare information hub and clearinghouse, asked respondents their experiences in the last 12 months.

Across the state, people worried about health care cost, surprise bills, and being able to afford healthcare in the future.

Cost was by far the most frequently cited reason for not getting needed medical care, exceeding a host of other barriers like transportation, difficulty getting an appointment, lack of childcare and other reasons.

“Of the various types of medical bills, the ones most frequently associated with an affordability barrier included doctor visits, dental, and prescriptions, likely reflecting the frequency with which Virginia adults seek these services—or, in the case of dental, lower rates of coverage for these services,” the Altarum survey said.

In Southwest Virginia, 63% of respondents reported experiencing one or more of situations including: Beign Uninsured Due to High Premium Costs, Delaying or Forgoing Healthcare Due to Cost, and or struggling to pay their medical bill.

Being unable to pay for food, heat or housing using up saving and borrowing money were reported as coping strategies.

“Fifty percent of uninsured adults cited insurance as “too expensive” as the major reason for not having coverage, far exceeding other reasons like “don’t need it,” “don’t know how to get it” and other reasons,” the survey summarized.

Delaying or Forgoing Healthcare Due to cost was reported by more than half of the respondents in the Southwest region.

Strategies included cutting pills in half or skipping doses.

Nineteen percent had problems getting to mental healthcare

Cost was by far the most frequently cited reason for not getting needed medical care.

Other barriers included transportation, difficulty getting an appointment, lack of childcare, and other reasons. Of the various types of medical bills, the ones most frequently associated with an affordability barrier were doctor bills, dental bills and prescription drugs.

Not only were respondents tangibly impacted by healthcare costs, they worried about future access like affording nursing home or home care, what would happen to them in the case of a serious accident, or if health insurance or drug costs became too expensive.

Throughout Virginia, respondents registered dissatisfaction with the health system. In the Southwest Region of the survey, 24 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “We have a great health care system in the U.S.”

Seventy-two percent agreed or strongly agreed with “the system needs to change.”

Respondents took control of costs for themselves by researching drug costs and recognized they should be taking care of their personal health to address affordability.

While respondents saw a role for themselves in solving healthcare problems, they saw, in far greater numbers, a role for their elected representatives in cost control and transparency.

Because healthcare in the state is politically charged, the survey asked about party affiliation of respondents.

But across party lines, over 80 percent of respondents said they would authorize the Attorney General to take legal action to prevent price gouging or unfair prescription drug price hike, show what a fair price would be for specific procedures, and require insurers to provide upfront cost estimates to consumers.

“The high burden of healthcare affordability along with high levels of support for change suggest that elected leaders and other stakeholders need to make addressing the cost of healthcare a top priority,” the survey summarized.

For methodology and state-wide data visit www.healthcarevaluehub.org/Virginia-2019-Healthcare-Survey

—Staff Report