Massachusetts residents say their top health concern is not the COVID-19 pandemic or the quality of care they receive but the cost of health care in the state, according to a new survey. The findings underscore the financial pressures facing patients, just as providers are pushing for higher reimbursements and as the government plans to stop purchasing and providing COVID vaccinations, tests and treatments next year.
The survey, commissioned by the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and conducted by Beacon Research, polled over 1,000 Massachusetts residents in June about which issues were of greatest concern to them. Inflation, followed by the cost of housing topped the list of worries, with the cost of health care in third place.
While the survey found that everyday costs weigh heavily for the highest number of polled participants, the survey drilled down on the impact health care spending had on households.
Forty-two percent of respondents said they had to postpone needed health care, and approximately a quarter said they put off needed prescriptions because of cost.
Eighty percent of those surveyed said it was important for there to be action on controlling health care costs, with most people placing the responsibility on health plans, government and hospitals.
The findings are in line with survey results released by the Center for Health Information and Analysis in June, which found that despite the state’s success in getting people insured, 41 percent of those with insurance had trouble affording health care.
The findings present a counterpoint to the enormous financial pressures hospitals and health systems are under, as they struggle to operate at a breakeven level amid elevated supply and temporary labor costs.
More health care costs could be borne by insurers in the near term, after the federal government announced in late August that it would stop paying for COVID vaccines and therapeutics in the coming months. Jay McQuaide, chief communications officer at Blue Cross, noted that the insurer was also seeing larger than typical rate requests from hospital and physician groups due to the financial pressure on them from higher supply and labor costs and lower revenues.
“We recognize hospitals are in a difficult situation coming out of COVID. But on the other hand, there has to be a balance and recognition that employers in the state paying the cost of health care are facing their own pressures,” McQuaide said. “So we’re trying to balance the needs of both.”
The insurer said in a release that it was collaborating with physicians and hospitals on upcoming contracts “that reflect the community’s serious concerns related to health care costs.”