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Recession Takes Startling Toll On Patients

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The American Academy of Family Physicians released the results today of a national survey that confirms the negative and potentially serious impact the recession is having on Americans’ access to health care.

The national poll of AAFP members shows that nearly 90 percent of the family physicians surveyed reported their “patients have expressed concerns recently over their ability to pay for their health care needs.” In fact, 58 percent said they had “seen an increase in appointment cancellations.” Furthermore, 60 percent reported they had “seen more health problems caused by their patients forgoing needed preventive care.” In addition, the survey found:

* two-thirds (66 percent) of the family physicians who responded said they were taking specific actions, such as discounting their fees, increasing charity care, providing free screenings, and moving patients to generic prescriptions, to help their patients manage health care needs with respect to the current economic climate;

* more than half (54 percent) of the survey respondents reported seeing fewer total patients since the recession began in January 2008;

* however, 73 percent said they had seen an increase in uninsured patients visiting their offices;

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* 64 percent of respondents reported a decrease in the number of employer-sponsored/privately insured patients;

* nearly 90 percent (87 percent) reported they had seen a significant increase in patients with major stress symptoms since the beginning of the recession.

“The survey found that patients are canceling or deferring important preventive screenings such as pap smears, mammograms and colonoscopies,” said Ted Epperly, MD, AAFP president. “They also are failing to return for recommended follow-up visits or refill medications that are vital to managing their chronic conditions. Rather than forgoing needed medication altogether, some patients opt to cut their prescriptions, without their physician’s knowledge, to make them last longer.”

Despite these cost-cutting measures, the economic environment is still causing anxiety among patients and is leading them to discuss other health care options with their physician.

“The AAFP supports health care coverage for all Americans regardless of their employment status or socioeconomic status,” he continued. “To achieve that goal and provide better care for all Americans in a cost-efficient manner, we must move toward a health care system based on enhanced primary care.”

The AAFP survey provides further evidence that consumers often defer health care during a recession. Health care is the largest sector of the economy, and people get sick no matter what’s happening on Wall Street. However, even the health care industry ails in tough economic times when some families are forced to prioritize rent or mortgage payments and food over health care services, Epperly said.