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Help Patients with the Changing Costs of Health Care

This post is sponsored by SingleCare

Cost is a major driver behind whether patients choose to seek out healthcare, and that has only increased during the pandemic. Nearly half (49%) of respondents to an October 2020 TransUnion Healthcare survey said the economy has impacted how they seek healthcare.

For example, 42% of respondents said they would spend more on prescription medication for better adherence while 22% said they would “stretch” their medication by skipping doses. That’s an alarming and dangerous trend, driven largely by price sensitivity and one that’s not limited only to lower-income or unemployed patients. 

There’s a generational component to the cost-conscious nature of patients, as well: Younger generations have especially been hit hard by the pandemic’s impact on the economy. 

Thirty-three percent of Gen Z and 29% of millennials saw changes to their healthcare, including prescription drug coverage, because of COVID-19. That compares to 18% for Gen X and 12% for Baby Boomers.

Exactly what will happen to healthcare costs in 2021 isn’t known, but SingleCare’s coronavirus survey revealed that Americans are worried about affording medical treatment (29%) and medication (24%). In response, many have delayed non-essential healthcare. For medical professionals looking to engage and empower patients, cost is no longer an afterthought but an immediate barrier to delivering potential value. 

Return to health

As more Americans are vaccinated against COVID, people may begin to feel safer returning to the routine doctor’s appointments and healthcare screenings that one-third of Americans put off at the start of the pandemic. As an alternative to delaying these medical appointments, many more consumers are turning to telehealth as a way to access healthcare. The coronavirus exploded telehealth use by 50% from the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Telehealth also presents some potential cost savings for patients with some insurance companies lowering copays for telehealth visits and companies reducing out-of-pocket costs for employees. It also eliminates the need for any travel expenses.

While patients have been overwhelmingly happy with their telehealth experience, 66% of people in Deloitte’s 2020 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers think they need to be physically examined by a doctor or nurse to understand their health needs.

As for people’s willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine, support is slowly ticking upward. Fifty-eight percent of Americans said they would get the vaccine in Gallup’s October poll compared to 50% the month before. Some patients are taking a wait and see approach with 53% of respondents to SingleCare’s December 2020 survey saying they wanted to see the initial response to the vaccine before they got it themselves.

For medical professionals, there’s an ongoing need to meet patients where they’re at. Even as the global pandemic subsides, providers may continue to offer telehealth options to meet patient demand. Clear, engaging, educational materials that explain the fee structures associated with such platforms would help erode any lingering cost-conscious hesitations.

Prescription drugs

The cost of prescription drugs is often one of the biggest unknowns for consumers when it comes to healthcare expenses. Fortunately, many patients changed their medication habits early on the pandemic in a way that could benefit them if prices go up in 2021. One-third of respondents to SingleCare’s March 2020 coronavirus survey switched their prescriptions from 30-day refills to 60- or 90-day refills. 

Patients continue to show interest in prescription cost-saving measures whether that’s through generic versions of drugs, prescription saving cards like SingleCare or online coupons. But there remains a significant number of people who don’t know such programs are available or mistakenly believe they are only an option for the uninsured. 

Providers interested in spurring greater prescription adherence would be wise to consider proactively initiating a conversation with patients about prescription drug costs and relevant cost-saving measures available to them. The difference between a patient skipping their prescription to save money and one who diligently takes medication as directed could be something as simple as suggesting mail-order prescriptions or recommending a savings discount card like SingleCare.

Mental health

Physical health isn’t the only healthcare concern for patients. For many, COVID-19 has also taken a toll on their mental health. A recent JAMA study found that depression rates have tripled due to the pandemic. A September 2020 SingleCare survey on anxiety found that 62% of respondents experience anxiety, with 29% saying COVID-19 causes anxiety directly. 

Respondents to the SingleCare survey cited cost of therapy and/or medication (27%) as the biggest barrier to getting treatment for their anxiety. Despite these financial concerns, the survey found that more people are seeking treatment for their anxiety.

One area where patients may get some relief from out-of-pocket mental healthcare costs is through an employee-sponsored healthcare plan. According to the Business Group on Health’s survey, 57% of employers plan to lower or waive costs for virtual mental health services in 2021 and 27% will reduce the cost of counseling services offered at the worksite. 

Regardless of whether healthcare costs increase in 2021 or not, patients’ awareness of and sensitivity to these costs is expected to remain strong. And even as the pandemic and related recession recedes into the rearview, it’s likely that costs — and an openness to discussing the topic with their medical team — will continue to play a big part in patients’ healthcare spending behavior. 

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