What does earning at least $62,000 a year buy you in America?
About the same amount of health-care affordability problems as lower-income citizens in three other highly developed countries, according to a new report.
Around one-quarter (27%) of higher income Americans said they skipped doctors’ visits, tests, treatments, follow-up appointments or drug prescriptions due to costs last year, according to a comparative report from the Commonwealth Fund about health care systems in 11 countries.
The researchers used the $62,000 annual income as a dividing line for higher- and lower-income households in America.
Compared to their counterparts in the other wealthy countries, richer Americans were the most likely to say they had cost-related access problems, said the report from the foundation focused on public-health matters. In second and third place, 21% of wealthier Swiss households and 19% of wealthier Australians said they had to do things like skip medical visits and prescriptions.
The report is a new look at the familiar problem of shortfalls and affordability woes in America’s health-care system, but the 27% mark for wealthier Americans is particularly glaring. It’s roughly on par with the percentage of lower-income people in New Zealand (27%), Switzerland (26%) and Australia (24%) who also said they had cost-related access problems, researchers noted.
And what about lower income households with financial barriers to health care? It’s not even close: one half of poorer American households said they had to miss medical visits, prescriptions and care based on costs. In a distant second 27% of New Zealanders said they had access problems based on affordability.
One half of poorer American households said they had to miss medical visits, prescriptions and care based on costs.
In other countries, the researcher used median household income thresholds like 66,000 New Zealand Dollars, 102,200 Swiss Francs, 90,000 Australian Dollars as markers for higher- and lower-income families.
Overall, America ranked last on measures including access to care, administrative efficiency, equity and health-care results. Though it did come second on what’s called the “care process,” which includes coordinated care and preventative care.
On the whole, Norway, the Netherlands and Australia had the top-performing health-care systems, the report said.
Researchers collected the data before the pandemic and during its earliest stages, but they said COVID-19 has been putting the strengths, weaknesses and disparities of each country’s health-care systems on stark display.
Other data suggests that’s exactly what’s happened. For example, Black and Hispanic households were more likely than white households to say the pandemic has harmed them financially, according to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. People of color have also faced higher infection, hospitalization and death rates, the foundation noted.
Four in ten people told U.S. Census pollsters in July 2020 they had delayed medical care in the past month due to the pandemic. (The July 2020 numbers were the last time researchers asked poll participants about the topic for an ongoing poll.)
The low grades from the Commonwealth Fund come despite the fact that America spends approximately 17% of GDP on health care.
The low grades from the Commonwealth Fund come despite the fact that America spends much more on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product than the other countries. Almost 17% of 2019 GDP went to health care spending, the researchers said.
“This study makes clear that higher U.S. spending on health care is not producing better health, especially as the U.S. continues on a path of deepening inequality,” said Dr. Eric Schneider, the foundation’s senior vice president for policy and research. “A country that spends as much as we do should have the best health system in the world.”
America needs to incorporate what works in other places, he said. The report notes, among other things, that America was the only country in the 11-nation list without universal health care.
In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Approximately 31 million people have their health insurance in some form or fashion under the statute. At the same time, between 31 and 32 million people are uninsured, according to September 2020 projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.