Stop-gap care needed during recession

May 15, 2009

As more Americans postpone healthcare due to the recession, Managed care executives need to get out in front of this issue now to start thinking about ways to provide monitoring and stop-gap care for those who need it most.

More patients are postponing healthcare due to cost, according to a recent survey.

According to a PULSE telephone survey of 15,000 Americans, by the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters, which tracked consumer healthcare behavior between January 2006 and February 2009, a total of 20% of U.S. households have postponed or cancelled care over the past year, a sharp increase over the same period in 2006.

Among those who postponed or cancelled care, 24% of households cited cost as the primary reason.

“The problem is not going away; it’s getting worse,” says Gary Pickens, chief research officer for the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters. “This data has all of the hallmarks of a trend that could pose a potentially major systemic shock to our healthcare system. Managed care executives need to get out in front of this issue now to start thinking about ways to provide monitoring and stop-gap care for those who need it most. The alternative would be far more costly over the long term.”

The majority of postponed services (55%) were for physician visits, followed by imaging (8%), non-elective procedures (6.2%) and lab/diagnostic tests (5.7%).

“We are seeing a positive correlation between Americans losing their access to employer-sponsored health insurance and deferral of healthcare,” Pickens says.

The percentage of households with employer-sponsored insurance showed a notable decline since the start of the recession, reaching a low of just 54.6% of households in the study sample; the percentage of households covered by Medicaid during the same period increased to 11.9% to 14.5% of households.

“The results of this survey have serious implications for public health officials, hospital administrators, large employers and consumers,” Pickens says. “When asked about their expectations for the next three months, one in five consumers said they expect to have difficulty paying for health insurance or services.”

The most likely services to be deferred are elective procedures (28%) and care for minor injuries (16%).