High inflation and housing costs are forcing many Americans to delay needed care

At a medical screening event in Sarasota, Florida, people gathered in a parking lot and waited their turn for blood pressure or diabetes checks. The event took place in the Newtown neighborhood of Sarasota, a historically black community. Local Tracy Green, 54, joined the line outside a pink and white bus that was offering free mammograms.

“It’s a blessing because some people, like me, are unlucky, and so that’s what I needed,” she said.

Green wanted the exam because cancer ran in his family. And she shared another health concern: her large breasts are causing her severe back pain. A doctor once recommended that she have reduction surgery, but she is uninsured and said she could not afford the procedure.

In a 2022 Gallup Poll, 38% of American adults surveyed said they had put off medical treatment in the past year due to cost, up from 26% in 2021. The new figure is the highest since Gallup began to track the issue in 2001. In a KFF survey released last summer, 43% of respondents said they or a family member had delayed or postponed healthcare due to cost. It found people were most likely to delay dental care, followed by vision services and doctor visits. Many were not taking prescribed medication.

The Newtown screening event – ​​organized by the nonprofit Multicultural Health Institute in partnership with a local hospital and other healthcare providers – is part of an effort to close the coverage gap for low-income people.

Green explained that his teeth are in poor condition but dental work will also have to wait. She does not have health insurance or a stable job. When she can, she finds casual work as a day laborer through a local temp agency.

“I only make $60 or $70 a day. You know it’s not making money,” Green said. “And some days you walk in and they don’t have a job.”

If she lived in another state, Green might be able to enroll in Medicaid. But Florida is one of 10 states that has not expanded the federal state health insurance program to cover more working-age adults. With rent and other bills to pay, Green said, her health is taking a backseat.

“I have no money to go to the dentist, nothing,” she said. “It’s so expensive. Now to get an extraction, a tooth pulled out, it’s like 200 to 300 dollars that you don’t have. So I don’t know what to do. It’s like fighting a losing battle of moving forward at this time.”

In the KFF poll, 85% of uninsured adults under 65 said they struggled to pay for health care. Almost half of their insured counterparts also said they struggled with affordability.

The inflation rate in the United States hit a four-decade high last year, and parts of Florida, including the Tampa metro area, have often done even worse.

“We are seeing growing desperation,” said Dr. Lisa Merritt, executive director of the Multicultural Health Institute.

The nonprofit, which helps people access low-cost healthcare, is based in Newtown, where inside Sarasota’s lavish seaside communities, many residents live below the poverty line, lack insurance and face other barriers to consistent and affordable care.

“It’s very difficult for people to worry about abstract things like screenings, regular health maintenance, when they’re faced with basic survival challenges: food, shelter, transportation often,” Merritt said. .

Merritt and her team of volunteers work to build trust with residents who may not know that support is available. They help people apply for low-cost insurance coverage, free drug programs, and other resources that can reduce treatment costs. Volunteer Bonnie Hardy said the people she serves have many financial worries, but one thing tops the list.

“Right now? A place to stay,” Hardy said. “The accommodation is awful.”

High housing costs have started to decline in recent months, but data shows rent in Sarasota has risen nearly 47% since the pandemic began in 2020. Hardy helps people find housing and puts them in contact with programs that cover costs such as utilities and security deposits. The goal is to stabilize their lives, and she said it can improve their health.

“Because they’re more comfortable now,” she said. “They feel like, hey, the rent is paid, I can let my guard down, maybe I can get the medical attention I need.”

Research shows that delaying health care can lead to bigger problems. The Gallup poll found that 27% of respondents delayed treatment because of cost, even for “very or fairly severe” conditions.

Some people may delay treatment for medical issues because of health care debt. A survey by NPR and KHN found that approximately 100 million people in America have medical debt. About 1 in 8 of them owe more than $10,000, according to a KFF survey.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, treating cancer or chronic diseases like diabetes early can save lives and cost less than treating later-stage diseases.

Doctors at the health screening event in Newtown said it was essential to help residents get preventative care. At the health fair, substitute teacher Crystal Clyburn, 51, had a mammogram on the mammogram bus and had her blood pressure checked.

Clyburn does not have health insurance and said she relies on free events to stay on top of her health.

“I just try to take advantage of everything that’s out there, everything that’s free,” she said. “You need to take care of yourself because you can look healthy and not even know you’re sick.”

After the cuff was removed, a doctor told Clyburn that her blood pressure was a little high but not high enough that she needed to take medication. Clyburn smiled, thanked him, and left relieved to know that the cost of prescription drugs was an expense she wouldn’t have to worry about.

This article is the result of a partnership that includes WUSF, NPRAnd KHN.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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