34 Million Americans Know Someone Who Died Without Being Able to Afford Medical Care, Survey Estimates

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A heartbreaking number of Americans know someone who has died after not being able to afford medical treatment, according to the results of a new Gallup survey out Tuesday. Within the last five years, it found, some 34 million Americans believe they’ve lost someone in exactly that way, and even more Americans currently struggle to pay for their own medical care.

The phone-based survey was run this past September by Gallup in conjunction with the non-profit organization West Health. Just under 1,100 people over the age of 18 across all 50 states and the District of Columbia were asked various questions related to drug pricing and affordability.

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One of the questions was: “Has there been a time in the last five years when a friend or family member passed away after not receiving treatment for their condition due to their inability to pay for it?”

Thirteen percent of respondents answered yes, which would amount to 34 million Americans, if the results are representative of the current adult U.S. population. But even that might be an underestimate of how often this happens, since we may not always be privy to our loved ones’ financial and medical problems.

Other research has suggested that tens of thousands of Americans die every year due to a complete lack of health insurance coverage, while as many as 45 million Americans are underinsured, with plans that have high out-of-pocket costs and unaffordable deductibles. And both the uninsured and underinsured rate has leveled off or increased over the past few years, following the modest improvements seen after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

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These trends are tied to several things: overall rising healthcare costs, employers passing on higher deductibles to employees, stagnant income growth, and policies designed by the Trump administration to kick people off Medicaid, among others. And as a result, more people are delaying their needed medications.

In the same Gallup survey, 22.9 percent—or an estimated 58 million adult Americans—reported being unable to pay for prescription drugs at least once in the past 12 months. Women and those who identified as Democrats were comparatively worse off than men and Republicans and independents.

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The survey’s sample size of 1,100 is relatively modest for a nationally representative poll. But some of the findings do line up with a larger Gallup survey of 3,500 adults taken in January, which also found that many Americans are having a hard time balancing their health care and finances. That survey estimated that 18.9 percent of respondents felt unable to afford drugs at least once in the past year, while 45 percent were worried that they would sink into bankruptcy if a major health crisis came along.

“These realities starkly highlight the significant practical implications of drug prices on U.S. residents, as well as the effects of healthcare policy action—or inaction,” Dan Witters, an analyst and research director of the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, wrote in a post announcing the new survey results.

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Despite pledged efforts by the Trump administration to lower drug prices and healthcare costs, most people aren’t impressed. When asked how much progress the Trump administration has “made to limit the rising cost of prescription drugs in the U.S,” two-thirds of respondents answered “not very much” or “none at all.”

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About the author

Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere