Back To Articles

Survey shows Pennsylvanians struggling with high healthcare costs

February 25, 2021

Anecdotally, it’s been clear that Pennsylvanians are struggling with rising healthcare costs, but until recently, Pennsylvania lacked the data to describe that struggle.  In the second Pennsylvania-specific survey on healthcare affordability conducted in late 2020, it’s clear that the problem is widespread and serious:

1 in 2 Pennsylvania adults struggled to afford healthcare in the past year

3 in 4 are worried about affording healthcare in the future

3 in 5 are worried they won’t be able to afford care for COVID-19 if they need it

Nearly 7 in 10 said healthcare is the top issue the government should focus on this year

Across party lines, 9 out of 10 believed that lawmakers should take action to remedy this situation

Struggling to afford healthcare can take many forms, including being uninsured because of high premium costs, delaying or forgoing care due to cost, and struggling to pay medical bills.

How are Pennsylvanians Coping with High Healthcare Costs?

When people consistently struggle with healthcare costs, the data shows that they make healthcare decisions based on what’s in their wallets instead of their doctors’ recommendations.  Many Pennsylvania families have been forced to take actions that jeopardize their health, such as delaying care (26%), avoiding getting care altogether (21%), skipping a test or treatment (21%), failing to fill a prescription, cutting pills in half or skipping doses (22%).

When they did get care, 1 in 4 Pennsylvanians struggled to pay the resulting bills. Commonly, they are being referred to collections, using up all or most of their savings, skipping payments on basic necessities like food, heat, or housing, or racking up debt.

Pennsylvanians are Worried About Affording Healthcare in the Future

3 in 4 Pennsylvania adults are worried about affording healthcare in the future. Many are afraid that they won’t be able to afford the costs of nursing homes or in-home healthcare (65%), medical costs for when they are elderly (61%), health insurance (60%), medical emergencies or serious illness (58%), or prescription drugs (50%).

Furthermore, nearly 2 in 5 of Pennsylvanians of all ages are worried about losing their health insurance.

COVID-19 Worries

While many Pennsylvanians are worried about affording COVID-19 treatment should they need it, they are also worried about other aspects of the pandemic that can impact their health. The top concerns were becoming ill from the virus (56%) and losing their source of income (27%).

To remedy some of these concerns, Pennsylvanians supported policies to address COVID-19. The most commonly supported policies were additional stimulus payments for families and individuals, financial help for small businesses, and universal health coverage.

Regional Differences

Affordability burdens affect families in every region of Pennsylvania — especially the Northwest region. They reported that 68% of residents struggle with healthcare affordability. Additionally, people in rural areas of Pennsylvania experienced affordability burdens at higher rates than those in other parts of the state. 6 in 10 rural adults experienced affordability burdens this past year compared to 5 in 10 adults in other areas.

Individuals in the Northwest region reported the highest levels of anxiety around affordability, though a majority of people in other regions expressed similar worries.

Across Party Lines, Pennsylvanians Want to See Change

Pennsylvanians agree that this is not the way healthcare is supposed to work. Across party lines, more than 3 in 4 said the healthcare system needs to change.  Changes endorsed by respondents included: expanding affordable health insurance options (93%), making it easier to switch insurers if a health plan drops your doctor (93%), showing what a fair price would be for specific procedures (92%), requiring insurers to provide upfront cost estimates to consumers (91%).

In particular, drug companies were the most frequently cited as being a “major reason” for high healthcare costs (70%).

About the Survey

This survey, the Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey, was done by Altarum’s Healthcare Value Hub with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Altarum chose the Pennsylvania Health Access Network as its state partner to release the results. More information about the survey methodology can be found in the statewide report.