Sun, Jan 12, 2020 - Page 7 News List

Americans are dying because
they cannot afford medical care

Millions of people in the US — an estimated quarter of the population — are delaying getting medical help because of skyrocketing costs

By Michael Sainato  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Louise Ting

Susan Finley returned to her job at a Walmart retail store in Grand Junction, Colorado, after having to call in sick because she was recovering from pneumonia.

The day she returned, the 53-year-old received her 10-year associate award — and was simultaneously laid off, her family said.

She had taken off one day beyond what is permitted by Walmart’s attendance policy.

After losing her job in May 2016, Finley also lost her health insurance coverage and struggled to find a new job. Three months later, Finley was found dead in her apartment after avoiding going to see a doctor for flu-like symptoms.

“My grandparents went by to check on her and they couldn’t get into her apartment,” her son, Cameron Finley, told the Guardian. “They got the landlord to open it up, went in and found she had passed away. It came as a complete surprise to everybody. It just came out of nowhere.”

“She was barely scraping by and trying not to get evicted. She gets what appears to her as a basic cold or flu, didn’t go to the doctor and risk spending money she didn’t have, and as a consequence she passed away,” he said.

Asked about Susan Finley losing her job, Walmart declined to comment, saying that personnel files from 2016 had been moved offsite.

Finley is one of millions of Americans who avoid medical treatment due to the costs every year.

In a poll conducted last month by Gallup, 25 percent of respondents said that they or a family member have delayed medical treatment for a serious illness due to the costs of care, and an additional 8 percent reported delaying medical treatment for less serious illnesses.

A study conducted by the American Cancer Society in May last year found that 56 percent of adults in the US have had at least one medical financial hardship.

Researchers warned that the problem is likely to worsen unless action is taken.

Robin Yabroff, lead author of the American Cancer Society study, said last month’s Gallup poll was “consistent with numerous other studies documenting that many in the United States have trouble paying medical bills.”

Despite millions of Americans delaying medical treatment due to the costs, the US still spends the most on healthcare of any developed nation, while covering fewer people and achieving worse overall health outcomes.

A 2017 analysis found that the US ranks 24th globally in achieving health goals set by the UN.

In 2018, US$3.65 trillion was spent on healthcare in the US, and these costs are projected to grow at an annual rate of 5.5 percent over the next decade.

High healthcare costs are causing Americans to get sicker from delaying, avoiding, or stopping medical treatment.

Anamaria Markle, of Port Murray, New Jersey, was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer in 2017. A clerk for nearly 20 years at the same firm, her family said that her employer laid her off after the diagnosis, with one year’s severance and health insurance coverage.

When the insurance coverage ended, Markle struggled to pay for coverage through COBRA, a federal health insurance program for people who lose their job or have a reduction in work hours; additional expenses; copays, an out-of-pocket, upfront fee for a medical service; and medical debt not covered by insurance.

Laura Valderrama, Markle’s daughter, said: “It wasn’t financially sustainable to keep paying COBRA out of pocket. On top of the premiums, you still have to pay the bills. We kept getting lots of bills for surgeries, chemotherapy… All these treatments, all these bills kept coming in.”

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