Americans are struggling to pay for health care in the ongoing economic recession, with a quarter saying they have had trouble in the past 12 months, according to a survey released on Monday.
Baby boomers — the generation born between 1946 and 1964 — had the most trouble and were the most likely to put off medical treatments or services, said researchers at Center for Health Care Improvement, part of the health care business of Thomson Reuters.
The study found that 17.4 percent of households reported postponing or delaying health care over the past year.
The U.S. Congress is working on a way to cover more of the 46 million people who lack health insurance, lower costs and coordinate care better. President Barack Obama has made it one of his administration's top priorities.
Americans pay more per capita for health care than people in any other country, yet have high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, untreated heart disease and other conditions. Americans are often dissatisfied with their access to care.
Thomson Reuters — the parent company of Reuters news agency — used its annual Pulse survey that queries 100,000 households to get information about health behavior.
Gary Pickens, George Popa and colleagues at the Michigan-based center interviewed more than 6,000 people in March and April about job losses, what health care they had used and their plans for future treatment.
"April numbers showed a significant increase in the percentage of households in which a member had lost a job in the last three months (13.5 percent)," the researchers wrote. In March, 11 percent said they had lost jobs.
"The percentage of households that had difficulty in paying for care in the last year was statistically unchanged between March and April (about 25 percent)."
They found 40 percent of all households planned to postpone care in the coming three months, with about 15 percent planning to put off routine doctor visits.
People born before 1946 were the least likely to delay care, probably because most can take part in Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly, the researchers found.
Baby Boomers were four times more likely than seniors to have trouble paying for health care, according to the report.
People born after 1984 were also unlikely to put off care, probably because they are too young to need much medical attention, the researchers said.
Income was also a big factor — homes where people made less than $50,000 a year were three times as likely to say they had trouble paying for medical bills as homes with combined incomes of $100,000 or more.
"It is important for health care providers, employers and policymakers to consider how the economy and health care policies affect demographic segments differently," Pickens said in a statement.