Pandemic side effect: 22% of Americans got better health insurance

Poll shows that many received more regular health care thanks to the boost in insurance coverage

A HealthCare.com poll of 1,005 Americans showed that 22% of them got more regular health care thanks to better insurance access during the pandemic. This comes as a result of the federal government lifting subsidies for health insurance and expanding Medicaid during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The number of uninsured dropped from 13% in the 2020 survey to 8% in 2022, according to the survey. Individuals with marketplace (ACA) plans rose from 5% in 2020 to 8% in 2022, while people on Medicaid rose from 12% of the adult population in 2020 to 19% in 2022.

The number of respondents ranking health insurance their largest expense dropped from 39% in 2020 to 26% in 2022, according to the report.

Despite the increase in coverage, financing health care remains a problem. Among the uninsured, for example, 51% of respondents say the reason they can’t afford health insurance is that it’s too expensive.

In addition, many U.S. adults also carry medical debt. The survey found that the percentage rose from 28% of the population in 2020 to 42% in 2022. Among American adults with medical debt, 39% have debts over $1,000 and 6% over $10,000.

One cause of medical debt is surprise medical bills. The survey showed that 50% of Americans experienced surprise medical bills in the last year. Among them, 15% got up to $500 in surprise medical bills, 17% got surprise medical bills of $501-$2,000, 10% of $2,001-$10,000, and 4% of $10,001-$20,000, and 3% received surprise medical bills in the last year of over $20,000.

Many Americans lack savings to pay medical bills. The survey showed that 26% have nothing in savings for emergency medical bills, 15% have just $1-$500, while on the other end, 16% of U.S. adults hold more than $6,000.

Some 31% of respondents say they don’t know how to pay for a severe illness, while 24% would pay with a credit card, and 16% would borrow money from family.About one-half (49%) of Americans also skip a range of activities to afford healthcare, with 23% of respondents foregoing travel and another 23% entertainment to afford health care, followed by big-ticket purchases (18%).

Others forego Christmas presents (16%), food (16%), home repair (14%) , fitness (14%), and rent (9%).

While some Americans got more regular healthcare thanks to improved health insurance access in the pandemic, many still opt out of healthcare. The survey showed that 53% of respondents skipped health care services in the last year.

Among them, 29% opted out of dental services, 21% vision, 17% lab tests, 15% emergency, 12% preventive, and 10% skipped elective health care.

As in past surveys, this year’s survey shows younger Americans struggling the most with health finances. 51% of Millennials, 47% of Gen X, and 44% of Gen Z say they have medical debt. That compares to just 35% of the Silent Generation and 29% of Baby Boomers.

Also at 61%, Millennials are the most likely to receive surprise medical bills, followed by Gen Z at 56%, and Gen X at 51%. That compares to 43% for the Silent Generation and 37% of Boomers.

Younger Americans are more likely to say they benefitted from new health insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid instituted during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

34% of Millennials say they got more regular health care thanks to better access to health insurance during the pandemic, along with 24% of Gen Z. That compares to 17% each of Gen X and Boomer respondents and 16% of the Silent Generation.

“These results show clearly that younger generations, many of whom skip health care for financial reasons, benefitted from the government’s pandemic health measures,” says HealthCare.com senior vice president of insurance, Deirdre Ragan, in a statement.