The term “access to health care” refers to the difficulty that many uninsured, Medicaid and those with a high deductible health plan have in obtaining medical, specialty, dental or other health services. Although the Affordable Care Act has increased the percent of the population that is insured, many of the newly insured have high deductible health plans that still make many services unaffordable.
People with limited access to health care often delay seeking medical care due to cost. Not surprisingly, limited access to health services can lead to delayed detection and treatment of disease, higher treatment costs, more frequent use of Emergency Department care, more frequent hospitalizations, and poorer overall health.
Barriers to health care are highest for with people living below or near the poverty line. However, employees of companies that do not offer health insurance, residents of rural communities, and families with high-deductible health insurance plans also have problems obtaining needed health services either due to cost or availability.
The most common barriers to accessing medical care are:
- Cost or affordability
- Inconvenient hours or no evening or weekend hours
- Long wait times to get an appointment
- Doctor or health service will not accept insurance
- Health service is too far or difficult to get to
The most common reaction to these barriers is to delay seeking medical care. This can delay diagnosis and treatment, which in turn reduces the overall quality of life and can lead to preventable disability or premature death. Reducing barriers to health care is essential to improving the quality of life in our community.
The cost of health care has been steadily rising in the US for decades. As a result, many businesses face the tough choice of either spending more to provide insurance for their employees, shifting a higher percent of costs to employees or cutting benefits. On the other hand, when health insurance becomes too costly for employees they delay care which ultimately results in poor health and increased absenteeism.
Providing timely, affordable access to health care for all will go a long way towards maintaining a healthy and productive workforce.