Americans can’t afford to get sick

Healthcare in the U.S. is costing us all more. Americans can’t afford to get sick from the increases in employee health insurance to the 1000 drugs that raised their prices. . Four in ten Americans report difficulty paying for medical care, and about half carry medical debt.

More Americans than ever are delaying care because of costs. In the annual Gallup Health and Healthcare poll released last week, 38% of Americans reported that they or a family member had delayed medical care in the prior 12 months because of cost. That figure represents a 12-point increase over last year, the highest in the 22 years Gallup has been tracking this figure.

Americans were even more likely to report delaying treatment for a serious condition than a nonserious one. More than one-quarter (27%) of those surveyed said that they or a family member had put off treatment for a very or somewhat serious condition. Just 11% delayed care due to cost for a less serious condition.

Monopolies abound in almost every healthcare sector: Hospitals and health systems, drug and device manufacturers, and doctors backed by private equity. The result is that U.S. healthcare has become a conglomerate of monopolies.

The hospital industry is now home to a pair of seemingly contradictory trends. On the one hand, economic losses in recent years have resulted in record rates of hospital (and hospital service) closures. On the other hand, U.S. hospitals’ overall market size, value, and revenue are growing.

Today, the 40 largest health systems own 2,073 hospitals, roughly one-third of all emergency and acute-care facilities in the United States. The top 10 health systems possess a sixth of all hospitals and combine for $226.7 billion in net patient revenues.

Cost of new drugs

One study found the typical launch prices for new drugs increased 20% each year over the past decade and a half, contributing to total U.S. spending on prescription drugs of over $500 billion in 2020. 

Nearly half of new drugs cost $150 000 per year in 2020 and 2021. Fewer than 10% of new drugs launched at that price in 2008, according to a study last year co-authored by Harvard’s Rome.

Some top-selling drugs that will see price increases:

  • Eliquis, a blood thinner from Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer, will rise 6%.
  • Imbruvica, a cancer drug, is up 6.2%.
  • Stelara, used to treat plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, is up 4%.

Some of the steepest price hikes are reserved for hospital drugs, not medicines consumers pick up at pharmacies.

Pfizer will raise prices by 10% on more than a dozen sterile injectable drugs used in hospitals. Many drugs are inexpensive, with price increases of $1 or less. The drug giant said it is spending $2 billion to upgrade manufacturing to ensure high-quality, reliable supply.

Meanwhile, medical debt continues to be a problem.

The percentage of Americans who report inability to pay medical bills has decreased slightly in recent years, to 10.8%, down from 14% in 2019, based on data from 2019, 2020, and 2021 National Health Interview Surveys.

Previous findings from NHIS indicated that adults under age 65 who were living with incomes at or near the federal poverty level (FPL) were over three times as likely to have medical bills that they were unable to pay at all compared with those with incomes at or above 200% FPL,” they say.

Can you afford to get sick? Despite insurance, co-pays can eliminate your savings within a year. The truth is that healthcare is too damn profitable.