Forgoing Care Benefits Insurance Companies But Negatively Affects Americans Health

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Due to our current poor economic times, many Americans are choosing to postpone or forgo health care. While this could negatively affect health, the New York Times is reporting that the change is beneficial to insurance companies with some having first-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ projections by an average of 30%.

Medical experts believe that American consumers are now more conscious of their healthcare costs during this economic recession and being more selective about the type of care they receive.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund, for example, shows that about half of women in the United States bypassed medical care in 2010 because they could not afford it. The findings, which came from a random national sample of over 4,000 adults, reveal that fewer women are filling prescriptions, more are skipping tests and treatments, and they are spending less of their overall income on medical costs. Only 46% of women were found to be up to date on receiving the recommended preventive health care services, such as mammograms or pap smears.

While there are still many Americans who are uninsured, even those who pay monthly premiums are delaying medical care, largely due to the increase in deductibles and co-payments. Even the rising cost of gas causes some to rethink medical appointments, particularly if they have to drive a long way to see a specialist.

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In some cases, being more conscious of medical costs is a good thing. Patients are less often likely to request unnecessary tests such as MRI or CT scans. More Americans are choosing less expensive generic drugs versus brand names.

But unfortunately, high-deductible health plans also tend to prompt patients to get less preventative care. The RAND Corporation, which studied the healthcare spending of more than 800,000 families, found that when deductibles rise over $1000, spending on medical costs dropped an average or 14%. However, the families were choosing to cut back on important services such as childhood immunizations, cancer screenings, and diabetes tests.

Ironically, while overall healthcare spending is down, cosmetic procedures are seeing a rebound in returning patients. David Pyott, chief executive of Allergan Inc, the company that makes Botox, has seen a 20% increase in sales since the spring of 2009.

Another elective medical service reporting a recovery in recent months is bariatrics – weight loss procedures that include the gastric bypass and the adjustable gastric band. "The bariatrics area is a good one, because it shows there are people going back to work full-time, getting insurance, and having the ability to ... pay for the co-pays that a procedure like that would require. So that makes us cautiously optimistic about the future," says Jose “Joe” Almeida, head of Covidien’s medical device division.

Overall, being conscious of medical spending and forgoing unnecessary tests and treatments is a good thing for Americans as long as they continue to focus on other areas of good health, such as eating a proper diet, getting regular exercise, and self-managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Screenings and preventive care may sometimes cost a little extra, but in the end, they save lives.

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