Why Healthcare Costs So Much

The United States has some of the disproportionately most expensive healthcare costs out of any developed country. Contrary to many other countries around the world, it doesn’t utilize a single-payer, socialized, or universal healthcare coverage system.

Despite the American government devoting over a trillion dollars a year to funding federal healthcare programs, our system still imposes an unreasonable fiscal burden on many working-class citizens who struggle to make ends meet in general, not just related to healthcare. One notable ongoing survey conducted by the Federal Reserve routinely tracks how Americans struggle to afford important expenses. Last year, it found that:

  • Many Americans still struggle to cover unexpected emergency expenses of $400 or more
  • Nearly 1/5th (19%) of all Americans making between 50-100k a year skipped medical care last year due to costs
  • Over 1/3rd (35%) of Americans making 50k or less skipped medical care last year due to costs

It’s important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic likely exacerbated some of these pre-existing conditions, and The Fed found a pretty direct throughline there as well. Out of the Americans laid off over the course of the pandemic, they determined that one in five, unfortunately, went uninsured, because most working adults in this country rely on their work to obtain health coverage.

One of the worst things about having such costly healthcare costs is that they don’t just incur more fiscal costs, but medical costs in the long run. Medical research published in journals like JAMA and The Oncologist have linked higher healthcare costs to later cancer diagnosis, and fewer prescriptions for essential healthcare needs. 

Beyond our system just being dysfunctional, why can these healthcare costs be so high? How high can these costs be? Furthermore, where can you turn to in this country to mitigate those costs? Read on to better understand the answers to all of these questions & more. 

Healthcare Costs Without Insurance

Even the most seemingly inconsequential or small-scale treatment could wind up costing an uninsured patient thousands of dollars in the United States. According to some particularly alarming statistics found on Healthcare.gov:

  • Fixing a broken leg can cost uninsured patients up to $7,500
  • Even the average cost of a THREE-DAY hospital stay can equate to $30,000
  • Some comprehensive care can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars without insurance

That last point cannot be overstated enough. In quite a very literal sense, our healthcare system applies a very harsh insult to the injuries of patients who can’t afford or access adequate health coverage. It can force people who are already in some of the most vulnerable, precarious positions one can find themselves in down into even more vulnerable and precarious positions. 

This reality is made especially prescient in these 2021 figures compiled by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. Among those figures are the lifetime treatment cost averages for different types of spinal cord injuries, all of them amounting to the millions:

  • High Tetraplegia: $5,162,152
  • Low Tetraplegia: $3,771,791
  • Paraplegia: $2,524,270
  • Loss of Motor Function: $1,724,594

Unless an SCI victim who lacks adequate health coverage is fortunate enough to have a solid outside support system around them, they may be relegated to a very dire, precarious position. After all, if many Americans struggle to afford an emergency expense over $400, how fair is it to burden them with six or seven figures of emergency expenses, often at the most vulnerable points in their lives?

But it’s not even just in-hospital care where exorbitant costs remain an issue. A survey that was covered in the Boston Globe two years ago found that over 1/4th of diabetic health patients (26%) in the U.S. ration their insulin due to high costs. This is 8% higher than the global insulin rationing average, and has directly correlated with far too many tragic, preventable headlines of patients dying because they couldn’t afford an adequate insulin supply. 

Moreover, affordability continues to far too often remain a barrier preventing people from obtaining vital prescription psychiatric drugs for treating mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. It remains such a prevalent barrier that the National Alliance on Mental Illness has an entire page dedicated to resources for making psychiatric medications more affordable. 

When did these costs start rising, and what can be done about their rise?

When Did Healthcare Costs Start Rising?

According to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, the per-capita increase of health spending has surged over 31-fold across the past four decades, indicating a sharp, but relatively historically recent surge in healthcare prices and expenditures. 

We cited insulin as an example of a healthcare treatment experiencing an enormous rise in costs. Well, if you’re wondering how enormous that price rise was, one infographic by Business Insider, Bloomberg, & Truven Health Analytics found that the average cost of insulin was more than TRIPLED in the decade from 2009 to 2019. 

Unfortunately, unaffordable health care costs continue to be a persistent, steadily growing issue with no signs of abating anytime soon. Prices can vary wildly from provider to provider, and the greed and income inequality that enables this price gouging to flourish has only been exacerbated in recent years. The Institute for Policy Studies estimates that American billionaires got 62% richer over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a massive $1.8 trillion wealth surge. 

Amid these rising problems, there’s of course been rising activism and public support rising against these problems. A 2021 poll conducted by the Morning Consult and Politico appeared to observe a high level of bipartisan support for the prospect of universal health coverage in America, with 2 out of 3 voters across the aisle supporting public option healthcare, and 55% supporting Medicare For All. 

You can read the full text of the latest version of the proposed Medicare For All bill, sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal, on the U.S. Congress website. Furthermore, some detractors of public health coverage options fear that these options would impose too much of a cost burden on U.S. taxpayers, but a notable review of 22 economic journals published in PLOS One last year found that universal coverage would actually be projected to cost LESS in the long run.

Hopefully, public pressure can eventually yield some public-health reform, but how can you save costs in the meantime, and how can you support those reform efforts? Here’s what you should know.   

Can You Hedge Healthcare Costs? How Can Healthcare Costs Be Reduced?

Most people’s pathway to affordable healthcare in America is via their employer or an ACA Marketplace plan. Even if you’re not classified as a traditional employee, the Freelancers Union has a helpful resource page for seeking affordable health coverage as an independent contractor. 

Even if your current coverage plan doesn’t totally accommodate certain healthcare needs, there are still strategies and measures you can take to cut costs. One increasingly popular strategy is by having healthcare needs met elsewhere, whether via a cheaper outpatient or urgent care facility, or via telehealth resources offering services like online doctor screenings, online therapy, and online pharmacies offering generic drugs at cheaper rates than you would get elsewhere.

Of course, not every single health need can be met over the worldwide web. We would still implore readers to maintain routine in-person health checkups from their primary care physician. However, the ability to access resources like affordable pharmaceutical prescriptions and counseling sessions in areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be so accessible is a modern luxury that’s been hugely democratized by the internet age. Why risk attempting to fake a doctor's note, for example, when you can just have an authentic one digitally delivered to your inbox in minutes?

Without further ado, we’d like to direct your attention toward some great online resources that are currently providing healthcare services more affordable than the industry averages, and great organizations that are working to make the American healthcare industry more affordable and accessible as a whole. 

Universal Healthcare Organizations And Healthcare Reform Organizations

If you have extra money you’d like to put toward donations or extra time you’d like to put toward volunteering, here are some great causes worth supporting in the fight to make healthcare more affordable and accessible:

  • Healthcare for America Now
  • Healthcare-NOW!
  • Families USA
  • National Coalition On Health Care
  • Physicians For A National Health Program
  • Community Catalyst
  • We Can Do Better

You may also want to consider looking into local mutual aid networks for meeting certain needs, and reviewing our databases to find affordable telehealth care services.

Readily Available, Readily Affordable, & Readily Accessible Relief

We’re happy to lend a hand in helping consumers find more affordable, accessible telehealthcare. On our provider database, you can find more information on great deals on great providers offering great telehealth services like:

We hope any of the above resources are helpful if you ever need them, and we hope you consider giving our mailing list a follow if you’re interested in more healthcare news and finding more affordable care discounts. 

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Sarah Ryan
Sarah Ryan