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Conn. Survey Results Show That COVID-19 Has Worsened Fears Over Health Care Costs

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Connecticut residents are struggling to afford health care costs and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the burden -- that’s according to results from a new statewide survey released Tuesday.

“The job loss and the resulting lack of wages that we’re seeing because of COVID-19 increases the likelihood that people are going to struggle to afford needed care,” said Amanda Hunt, co-deputy director of the Healthcare Value Hub at Altarum. 

More than half of residents reported being worried or very worried about affording COVID-19 treatment if they become ill.

That was in addition to the 51% of adults who said they have experienced a health care hardship in the last 12 months, including issues with high premium payments, large medical bills or having to delay care because of cost.

Health care policy analysts say these findings show that the pandemic has only exacerbated existing gaps in the health care system, and a majority of adults surveyed want the government to find better solutions to the problems that patients and consumers face.

“This disturbing survey paints a picture of quiet desperation -- even Connecticut families with insurance feel underinsured and financially vulnerable,” Ted Doolittle, the state’s health care advocate, said in a statement.

“We need to admit what health care economists have been telling us for 20 years: The job-based insurance carriers need government help to get the price of health care down to internationally competitive levels,” he said.

The survey was conducted by Altarum, a nonprofit health care policy and research organization supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers analyzed answers from 940 Connecticut adults who participated in the survey between May 8 and 18.  

“These affordability concerns go far up the income stream. This is not a problem that’s solely experienced by low-income earners,” Hunt said. “In fact, almost 40 percent of people earning more than $75,000 a year reported having at least one of these affordability burdens.”

Participants were asked to weigh in on policies that would address concerns in the pandemic. The most supported ideas were improvements in public health emergency preparedness, more financial help for small businesses, and additional federal stimulus payments.

Sabah Bhatnagar, a deputy director at the Healthcare Hub, said some policy solutions are championed across political party lines. Overall, about 92% of adults thought the government should expand health insurance options so that everyone can afford quality coverage.

When broken down, that was made up of 89% percent of Connecticut Republicans, 94% of Democrats, and 93% of independents.

“In high numbers, residents also supported making vaccines affordable to all and showing what a fair price would be for specific procedures,” Bhatnagar said.

Most Republicans, Democrats and independents were also in favor of the federal government stepping in to stop prescription price gouging and unfair price hikes, as well as set standard prices for drugs to make them more affordable.

Jill Zorn is senior policy officer at Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which has advocated for the adoption of public option insurance programs in Connecticut. She said overall, the survey reflects the reality of challenges and barriers to care that extend beyond the state’s uninsured population and can have lasting impacts.

“There’s a remarkable consistency in people’s concerns. They certainly, in the era of COVID-19, wouldn’t have expected them to be improved, but people definitely have higher levels of worry,” she said.

“Even people on private insurance, those with private insurance are increasingly in high-deductible health plans, and so those people don’t feel particularly protected from health care worries either,” Zorn said.

The survey did have limitations. Authors said more analysis could be done on how these affordability issues play out across different racial and ethnic groups by getting input from more residents in these populations -- this survey was only offered in English back in May when a Spanish version was in a testing stage.

Researchers collected data on race and ethnicity but said there weren’t enough responses in each group to draw reliable conclusions.

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