Providers' price hikes push patients to defer care, rely on payment plans, surveys say

Inflation-driven price increases among smaller healthcare practices are accompanying “record high” deferred care, a bump in the use of patient payment plans and growing tensions between patients and their providers, according to a pair of surveys released this week.

The first, a November poll of 360 providers and 1,040 patients commissioned by healthcare customer engagement platform Weave, found that 51% of practices had raised their prices within the last 90 days and that 49% planned to do so sometime in 2023.

Of those that had recently increased, 48% did so by 1% to 5%, 47% by 6% to 15% and the remaining 5% of practices raised prices by more than 15%, according to the survey.

However, 67% of the provider respondents said they are seeing evidence of patients delaying care due to economic concerns and recession fears. Thirty-one percent of providers also said they’re seeing an uptick in patients who have turned to a payment plan to finance their care.

Another new public opinion poll released by Gallup outlined a similar trend. Its late fall survey of over 1,000 adults saw 38% of Americans report that they or a family member had postponed medical treatment during 2022 due to costs.

Those responses were a 12-point increase in the percentage over the previous year, representing both the highest total and sharpest year-to-year increase the firm has seen since it began the annual poll in 2001.

“With high inflation creating moderate to severe hardship for a majority of Americans in the second half of 2022, their reports of delaying medical care in general due to cost—as well as delaying care for a serious condition—rose sharply to new highs,” Gallup wrote in a post sharing the results.

Gallup’s survey respondents said they were more than twice as likely to have delayed treatment for themselves or their family for a very/somewhat serious condition (27%) than for a not very/not at all serious condition (11%).

Deferred care responses increased year to year across different income brackets, albeit to different extents: 12 points among those with an annual household income under $40,000 for a total of 34%; 11 points among those with an income between $40,000 and $100,000 for a total of 29%; and seven points among those with an income over $100,000 for a total of 18%, according to Gallup.

Additionally, a higher percentage of younger respondents and women reported putting off very or somewhat serious care within the past 12 months.

“This change came amid the highest inflation rate in the U.S. in more than 40 years, which made 2022 a challenging year for many Americans,” Gallop wrote.

Weave’s poll responses pointed to a concurrent trend of increasing tensions between patients and providers.

Just over half of responding providers said that patients are now “less reasonable” than they were a year earlier, while 13% said they believe their patients trust them less than they did 12 months back. Fifty-two percent said they believed patient expectations have increased since the start of the pandemic, while 87% of providers said they think their patients lie to them during appointments.

For their part, 62% of patient respondents said that they have felt rushed, not heard or not paid attention to by a provider during the past 12 months. More than half told the company that they have experienced anxiety prior to a medical appointment.

Still, just over three-quarters of the patient respondents said they had not switched to a new provider during the past 12 months, and about 95% said they trusted their current healthcare provider, according to Weave’s report.

“Healthcare practices are not entirely immune from the macroeconomic issues facing all small businesses across the country, but there are meaningfully different implications for their industry,” Weave wrote in its report. “Patients are setting a higher bar than ever before when it comes to the patient experience and what they expect concerning care and communication.”

Weave commissioned an independent market research firm for its nationwide poll, which conducted sampling in partnership with online survey tool Qualtrics. Gallup’s poll samples landline and cellphone numbers using random digit dialing, and the firm purchased its samples from consumer and B2B research company Survey Sampling International.