Survey: More Americans fear medical bills than becoming seriously ill

The high cost of healthcare has led many Americans to delay or forgo recommended medical care such as tests, treatments and doctor visits.

In fact, more people are afraid of paying their medical bills (40%) than becoming seriously ill (33%), according to a new poll (PDF) by NORC at the University of Chicago. With funding from the West Health Institute, the nonpartisan research institute surveyed more than 1,300 adults. Some of the notable findings:

  • 30% had to choose between paying for medical bills or necessities like food or heat.
  • 74% said Americans don't get good value for what the country spends on healthcare.
  • 32% were unable to fill a prescription or took less than the prescribed dose because of how much it cost.
  • 47% went without a routine dental cleaning or checkup due to cost.

Millennials were the most likely to avoid care due to cost at 31%, according to a survey released last year that also looked at how costs affect medical decisions. Overall, a quarter of Americans chose to forgo medical care because of costs.

“It’s shocking and unacceptable that medical bills strike more fear in the hearts of Americans than serious illness,” West Health President and CEO Shelley Lyford said in a statement, adding that “bold action” is needed to bring down the high cost of healthcare.

RELATED: Patient out-of-pocket costs increased 11% in 2017, report finds

More than half of those surveyed by West Health-NORC received a medical bill for something they thought was covered by their health insurance, and half reported being surprised by the cost of their medical bills. This is a familiar situation for patients across the country who receive surprise medical bills when a provider who cared for them is not part of their health insurer's network.

RELATED: Most patients can’t pay a medical bill for a $1K emergency visit

The rising cost of pharmaceuticals has been a particular concern among patients, providers and federal officials. A recent report shows the cost of certain brand-name drugs grew 10 times faster than the rate of inflation over the last five years, bolstering calls from lawmakers to slow the growth of drug costs.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently appointed a former CVS Health executive to oversee drug pricing reform at the federal agency. Meanwhile, Aetna has launched a new initiative to pass drug discounts directly to consumers beginning in 2019.