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People skip their doctor appointments when inflation drives up prices


Medical cost data is part of Fed report on national economic well-being.

piggy bank stethoscope: © Nudphon -

© Nudphon -

As prices go up generally, patients stay away from their physicians, according to federal analysts.

In 2022, 28% of adults went without some form of medical care because they could not afford it. That figure was up from 20% in 2021 and was the highest since 31% in 2014, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

This week the Fed published its report, “Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2022,” an examination of overall financial well-being based on income, employment, expenses, banking and credit, housing, higher education and student loans, and retirement and investments.

The figures are based on the Fed’s 2022 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, which took place in October last year.

Overall, the survey results “found that self-reported financial well-being fell sharply and was among the lowest observed since 2016.” Respondents said their credit card debt rose, their retirement savings plans were not on track, indicating “how families were affected by broader economic conditions in 2022, such as inflation and stock market declines,” the report said.

Attempting to cut costs, dental care was the most commonly skipped treatment (21%), followed by seeing a doctor or specialist (16%). Prescription medicine, follow-up care, or mental health counseling all tied with 10% of adults not getting those services due to costs.

The Fed report noted that more money may lead to better health.

“Ability to afford health care may contribute to the finding that, as family income rises, the likelihood a person reported being in good health increases substantially,” the report said. “Among those in families with income less than $25,000, 75% reported being in good health, compared with 91% for those in families with income of $100,000 or more.”

Got health insurance?

Health insurance also makes a difference – and many adults have it, with the 2022 health insurance rate hitting 91%, similar to 2021.

“Those without health insurance were more likely to forgo medical treatment because they couldn’t afford it,” the report said. “Among the uninsured, 42% went without medical treatment because they couldn’t afford it, compared to 26% among the insured.”

Gas, food prices outpace medical bills

While inflation is a factor across the economy, the Fed noted 75% of adults reported gas prices went up “a lot” in the last 12 months, and 71% of adults said the same about food prices. For medical care, medication, and health insurance, 16% of adults said costs went up “a lot” and 34% said prices were “somewhat” more in 2022.

Unexpected expenses

Surprise expenses don’t have to be huge to be difficult. “Relatively small, unexpected expenses, such as a car repair or a modest medical bill, can be a hardship for many families,” the report said.

In 2022, 23% of adults had major, unexpected medical expenses in the prior 12 months, with the median amount between $1,000 and 1,999, the report said. Among adults, 16% carried medical debt from their own care or care for a family member, not necessarily from the prior 12 months.

When asked about a hypothetical expense of $400, 63% of adults said they could have paid with cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement; that figure was down from 68% in 2021. For 2022, 37% would have had to borrow money, sell something, or generally would not have been able to cover the expense.

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