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70 million Americans feel unprepared to pay for health care costs next year


Inflation is the top reason that nearly one-third of Americans are concerned about covering unexpected health care needs

A report from Deloitte found that as a result of inflation, many American consumers are making difficult choices about household expenses, including whether they can pay for medical care. These decisions of choosing to pay for either housing, transportation, prescription drugs, or needed medical care can impact their health and quality of life.

According to the report, consumers are dealing with economic pressures they weren't facing just one year ago. Prices for food at home rose 12.2% between 2021 and 2022, the largest increase since April 1979. Energy prices rose 41.6 % over the same time, the largest 12-month increase since April 1980. With prices rising in other areas of consumers' lives, one likely outcome is they'll have less money available for health care needs.

Twenty-six percent of consumers who don't have a health plan that covers virtual visits intend to change their health plans to accommodate. Nearly two-thirds of consumers who had virtual health care visits last year cited either convenience (38%) or cost (27%) as the top reasons why they sought virtual health. In response to rising expenses, some consumers are delaying routine care, cancer screenings, preventive care, and other essential medical needs.

"Inflation can also impact spending on health equity initiatives which can further exacerbate inequities and outcomes of historically vulnerable and underserved populations that already are struggling to pay for critical needs like food, housing, transportation and clothing,” said Jay Bhatt, DO, MPH, MPA, executive director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and the Deloitte Health Equity Institute, in a statement. “We know that when basic needs go unmet, this can lead to poorer health outcomes, and have a cascading effect. We're poised to reverse the gains we've made in health equity if we aren't intentional and thoughtful about how we care for the most vulnerable among us."

Virtual health may be one way health systems fight inflation. According to the "Deloitte Survey of Health Care Consumers" in 2022, virtual health visits continued to increase from 22% in 2018 to 44% in early 2022. Some consumers are considering changing health plans if they don't offer virtual visits, as well as other more affordable and convenient options. Financial pressures for both consumers and providers and retailers may accelerate virtual health transformation providing cost effective options for consumers and diversified services for providers and retailers to grow, build trust and potentially lessen the effects of inflation, according to Deloitte.

Hospitals, health systems and clinicians are not immune from the financial pressures imposed by a tight labor market and ongoing supply chain issues, so retaining patients is critical, the report states. Deloitte's research shows that consumers are demanding a trusted health care experience and are willing to move on when they don't receive it. Thus, health care organizations should weave trust elements into their offerings, including:

  • Helping consumers navigate their health care journeys by using established and credible entities to help consumers find information and providers.
  • Collaborating with trusted community partners like pharmacies and other community-based organizations.
  • Providing (better) cost transparency tools that help consumers predict costs and resources, so they're more prepared.
  • Including social drivers of health in patient discussions so consumers can factor these into their planning and make more informed decisions.

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