Global Risks

It's one of the richest countries in the world - yet its healthcare is failing millions

Healthcare is a hot topic in the United States, and age, race, income and political affiliation affect American's experiences with the medical system.

More than 13% of Americans know someone who died after being unable to afford medical care. Image: REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • More than 13% of American adults say they have at least one friend or family member who died in the last five years after being unable to afford medical care.
  • People of colour, younger people and those with low incomes were far more likely to know someone who died under these circumstances.
  • The US does not have a universal healthcare program, and there's a link between income and ability to afford medical treatment.

This is a stark statistic: 34 million Americans know someone who died after being unable to afford needed medical treatment.

Have you read?

Gallup and West Health asked 1,095 people the following question: "Has there been a time in the last five years when a friend or family member passed away after not receiving treatment for their condition due to their inability to pay for it?"

While 13% answered "yes," there are significant variations among the sample.

13.4% of Americans said they know someone who has died after being unable to pay for needed medical treatment. Image: Gallup/West Health

People of colour were far more likely than white people to know someone who died after being unable to pay for medical treatment – 20.3% vs. 9.6%.

Younger respondents were also more likely to have answered "yes" – 16.9% of respondents age 18-44 and 12.4% of respondents age 45-64. Only 6.6% of baby boomers answered "yes," by comparison.

Image: Statista
Income and voting intentions

In 2017, the median household income in the United States was $61,372 – and not surprisingly, income also affected respondents' answers. Among those earning less than $40,000, 18.5% were likely to have known someone who couldn’t afford potentially life-saving treatment, compared to 9.1% of those earning more than $100,000.

In a country which does not have a universal healthcare program, the link between income and access to services – or the lack of access – is hard to miss.

But the Gallup-West Health poll also illustrated a less obvious finding: the correlation between political affiliation and the likelihood of a person knowing someone who died under these circumstances.

Just 4.9% of Republicans answered "yes," while 14.8% of Democrats and 16.4% of independents answered "yes."

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Global RisksHealth and Healthcare SystemsJobs and the Future of Work
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