US lags behind other developed countries in healthcare affordability

Americans continue to have more anxiety about accessing and paying for healthcare services than people in many other developed countries.

Indeed, adults in the U.S. are more likely than those in 10 other high-income countries to go without needed healthcare due to costs, according to a new Commonwealth Fund survey of 11 countries conducted between March and June of this year.

Among the findings:

  • Thirty-three percent of adults in the U.S. faced cost-related barriers to healthcare services in the past year compared to 22% in Switzerland, 16% in Canada and 7% in the United Kingdom.
  • Forty-three percent of low-income adults reported forgoing care because of costs--the highest rate of any country. 
  • In addition, when they were sick, low-income U.S. adults had more trouble getting quick access to see a healthcare provider. More than one-third (35%) waited six days or more, compared to only 17% of higher-income adults.

“The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, but what we get for these significant resources falls short in terms of access to care, affordability, and coordination,” said Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D., in a statement. “We can learn from what is working in other nations. If we’re going to do better for our patients, we need to create a healthcare system that addresses the needs of everyone, especially our sickest patients, and those who struggle to make ends meet.”

This is not the first time a report showed that the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in healthcare and outcomes. A 2013 study, for example, concluded that life expectancies among Americans are shorter than those in Europe. And prior Commonwealth Fund studies have concluded that the U.S. healthcare system is by far the most expensive in the world.

There have been some improvements in the U.S. compared to past surveys, according to the latest report. For example, the percentage of Americans who said they put off seeing a doctor due to financial hardship was down from the 37% reported in the 2013 Commonwealth Fund survey. And the nation did comparatively well in the categories of timely access to specialists, conversations with physicians about leading a healthy life, and coordinated hospital discharge planning.