As we near the end of 2023, our nation’s healthcare affordability crisis shows no signs of easing. Research shows that patients—regardless of income level and insurance coverage—struggle to pay for necessary care. And these struggles lead to delayed or skipped treatment, medical debt, and poorer health outcomes.
We also know that help is available—in the form of financial assistance. In fact, thousands of resources exist, ranging from drugmaker copay cards to foundation grants. By our own calculations, these resources offer an estimated $58 billion to eligible patients.
With so much assistance on the table, you’d think fewer patients would face financial barriers to care. But, in working with providers and pharmacies across the healthcare ecosystem, we’ve found the problem isn’t lack of funding, but rather lack of use.
A Deeper Dive into Affordability Trends
To probe the issue further—and to get at what’s driving this underutilization—we conducted a survey analyzing consumer attitudes and behaviors surrounding healthcare costs. This was a follow-up to our previous consumer survey, which demonstrated patients’ desire to engage digitally throughout their medical journey, particularly when it came to paying for care.
Our latest survey, which was completed by 1,000 U.S. adults 18+ (commissioned by TailorMed and fielded by Dynata, a global market research firm), offers deeper insight into the financial experience patients crave. It also suggests that attitudes about healthcare expenses, and the impact of affordability, may vary by age and gender.
Here are 5 key findings from our survey on healthcare consumerism and affordability trends:
1. Digital Engagement and Financial Experience Remain Key Patient Priorities:
- A quarter of consumers have an interest in taking a more active role in decisions that impact their health, but they are confused about where to start or don’t feel supported in doing so.
- When it comes to digital resources that enhance the patient experience, 41% said online scheduling was most important to them, while 25% said the same about online/app bill payment.
2. Patients Are Worried About Paying for Healthcare, Yet Financial Assistance Remains Underutilized:
- 65% of consumers said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about having the financial means to pay for their own or a loved one’s healthcare. Not surprisingly, those with lower incomes were most worried about their ability to pay for care.
- However, only 29% of consumers are currently enrolled in financial assistance programs to help pay for these expenses.
- This leaves the majority (71%) who are not enrolled in any assistance programs, even though funding is widely available.
3. Patients Want Better Cost Communication from Their Providers:
Consumers want more from their healthcare experience, namely, more support from their physicians when it comes to affording treatment.
- When asked what frustrates them most about the healthcare system, 37% of consumers cited a lack of support from their provider in understanding their healthcare expenses and paying out-of-pocket costs (including prescription costs).
- By contrast, only 15% said lack of access to digital tools was their biggest point of frustration, indicating that financial support was a more pressing concern.
- 41% of consumers said their doctor never brings up their costs or financial concerns during a visit. This disproportionately impacts those who make less money annually.
4. There’s An Opportunity for More Education and Support Around Healthcare Expenses:
Despite saving and budgeting for their healthcare expenses, consumers spend more time evaluating non-medical purchases. These findings suggest an opportunity to help consumers be more fiscally responsible.
- 34% of consumers budget for their healthcare and have a savings dedicated to healthcare expenses.
- However, 45% of consumers spend more time considering and understanding the costs of other purchases, including new/used cars (16%), new homes (10%), vacations (14%), big ticket retail items (9%), education expenses (7%), and holiday gifts (6%).
- Less than half of that figure (22%) are more thoughtful about their healthcare expenses than non-medical purchases.
- 14% of consumers cited a lack of education/information from their provider on how to move forward with their care.
5. Varying Attitudes Toward Affordability May Signal a Generational and Gender Divide:
Survey results reveal differences in how consumers navigate the health system and approach medical costs.
- Millennials were more likely than other age demographics to report that they were “very worried” about their ability to afford their own or a loved one’s care. Given millennials have accumulated debt faster than any other age group, impacting their ability to afford a home, a car, or start a family, it follows that their financial uneasiness extends to healthcare.
- These concerns may also motivate millennials and younger generations to explore assistance options. Of consumers who said that they had enrolled in financial assistance programs, 42% were millennials, while 36% were Gen Z. By contrast, only 11% of Baby Boomers had done the same. Notably, 61% of Baby Boomers were content with their healthcare experience vs. just 16% of Gen Z.
- Millennials were also the most conscious about saving for healthcare. 44% said they budgeted for healthcare and/or had an account dedicated to healthcare expenses.
- In addition, there may be differences in the way men and women approach this issue. 39% of men vs. 29% of women said they budgeted/saved for healthcare. This runs counter to the public perception that women (and mothers a.k.a. “Chief Mom Officers”) are most conscientious when it comes to their family’s medical/financial decisions.
- There may also be differences in cost communications with male vs. female patients. More men (31%) than women (22%) said their doctor often has transparent conversations with them about healthcare costs. By contrast, more women (46%) than men (37%) reported that their physician never broaches the topic of affordability. Given that U.S. women face $15 billion more per year in out-of-pocket costs than men, these patterns may indicate missed opportunities to help female patients address financial barriers.
Patients continue to express an interest in and a willingness to take a more active role in their healthcare journey, particularly when it comes to affording care. They also express frustration that their financial concerns aren’t being adequately addressed. Healthcare entities have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to discuss affordability, identify patients in need, and offer them greater support and education in navigating their expenses. They should also be conscious of certain patient populations who may face steeper financial obstacles. By taking these steps, healthcare organizations can help bridge the gap between the volume of financial assistance available and the amount that reaches patients who needs it.
To learn more about how TailorMed can help your organization secure more assistance for more patients, please reach out to our team.