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66% of Americans fear they won’t be able to afford health care this year

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With millions of Americans still unemployed and the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing, many are uncertain if they'll be able to pay for all their health-care needs in 2021. 

About 66% of Americans report they are very, somewhat or a little concerned they won't be able to afford medical care this year, according to a December survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by AccessOne. Of the 41% of respondents who are very or moderately concerned about health-care costs, 53% are parents with children. 

AcessOne surveyed Americans on their concern around the ability to pay their medical bills.
Source: AccessOne patient finance survey

It's not even large medical expenses that worry Americans. Nearly half of respondents, 49%, are concerned about their ability to pay for unexpected medical bills that total less than $1,000.

Why many Americans have concerns over medical costs

In many cases, the high rate of unemployment and uncertainty around the future of many more businesses' ability to survive the pandemic are fueling fears around medical costs. 

That's because just under half of Americans, 49.6%, got their health insurance through their employer in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Without a job, many Americans are left without health insurance and need to pay for medical expenses out-of-pocket. In fact, because of layoffs during the pandemic, as many as 12 million Americans have lost their health coverage, according to the latest estimate in August by the Economic Policy Institute.

Many of those are younger employees. About 33% of Gen Z (those born in 1995 or after) and 29% of millennials (those born between 1980 and 1994) had their health insurance impacted by the pandemic, including losing coverage, according to a survey TransUnion Healthcare conducted in fall. Only about 12% of baby boomers experienced an impact because of Covid-19.

Those who have been laid off may end up in expensive plans through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or one of the state insurance marketplaces. The national average premium for a benchmark marketplace plan in 2021 is $452 a month, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Not only is coverage expensive, but many times these plans have high deductibles.

Even for those who have insurance, rising health costs, expensive Covid-19 treatments and longer claim reimbursement periods can also play into Americans' rising concerns. In fact, it took consumers five to 10 times longer to get their claims reimbursed by insurance companies during the pandemic, according to AccessOne

Plus, Americans are already spending more. During the Jan. 1 prescription price update that manufacturers undertake semi-annually, GoodRx found 589 drugs increased by an average of 4.2% from their previous list price. Meanwhile, visits to the emergency room and in-patient procedures may be down from pre-pandemic levels, but the average patient's out-of-pocket expenses last year came to over $5,000, a 5% increase from 2019 spending levels, according to TransUnion Healthcare. 

Health expenses can be even greater for those who contract severe cases of Covid-19. A patient with insurance who requires a hospital stay because of Covid is billed an average of $38,221 for care, according to FAIR Health.

"Given the level of economic uncertainty and increased health risks presented by the pandemic, 2020 has been a challenging year for patients and providers alike," said Mark Spinner, CEO for AccessOne.

And it looks like most Americans believe 2021 will not be any easier when it comes to juggling health expenses.

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