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Nearly half of U.S. adults fear surprise bills, don't seek healthcare

Potential for surprise medical bills can discourage people from getting needed care, a new survey finds. Photo by Thomas Breher/Pixabay
Potential for surprise medical bills can discourage people from getting needed care, a new survey finds. Photo by Thomas Breher/Pixabay

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Nearly half of adults in the United States report that concerns over unexpected medical bills keeps them from seeking care, according to a survey by the American Heart Association.

In addition, more than 40% of respondents indicated that if they received an unexpected medical bill for $1,000, they would not have the money to pay for it, the data showed.

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Two-thirds of respondents with private health insurance also said they have received an unexpected medical bill, and of those, one in three was not able to pay it.

Perhaps as a result, more than 80% of survey respondents would like to see Congress pass legislation to end surprise medical billing, the American Heart Association said.

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"Surprise medical bills are a major driver of financial anxiety and disruption for families nationwide that are already straining under the weight of an ongoing pandemic," said Mitchell S. V. Elkind, president of the AHA.

"For more than a year, Congress has been considering bipartisan legislation to ensure patients aren't stuck with financially devastating bills after seeking care [and] it is long past time for lawmakers to stop surprise medical bills," said Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University.

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Patients may get surprise medical bills ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars after unknowingly receiving care from a healthcare provider, hospital or medical transport company that is outside their insurer's coverage network, according to AHA.

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There also have been reports of high costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment during the pandemic.

In June, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., introduced legislation intended to protect the public from reductions in healthcare coverage during public health emergencies.

"Fear of high medical costs cannot be a barrier to treatment or care for patients, and that is especially true during a pandemic," Porter said in a press release at the time.

"Even in the middle of a public health emergency, we've seen major insurance companies continue to put their profits before the health of our communities," she said.

Working with the Harris Poll, AHA surveyed 2,045 adults 18 years old and older within the United States online between Oct. 12 and 14.

Among those surveyed, 1,318 said they previously received an unexpected medical bill and 977 had private insurance, the data showed.

Forty-nine percent of the respondents said worrying about an unexpected medical bill keeps them from seeking care, and 44% indicated they would be unable to pay an unexpected medical bill for $1,000.

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Of those with private insurance, 68% reported that they have received an unexpected medical bill, the data showed.

Among those with private insurance who did not have money available, 23% said they have yet to pay the bill, according to the survey.

"A patient facing a medical emergency such as cardiac arrest or stroke should have to focus only on their immediate medical needs -- not on whether they'll be able to afford care not covered by insurance," said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

"Americans want Congress to put an end to surprise medical bills, and they need lawmakers to act now," Brown said.

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