More than a third of Texans have put off health care decisions and are now without health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures from the Episcopal Health Foundation, a Houston-based health advocacy organization.
Cindy Alvarez works behind the reception desk in an empty waiting room at Houston Eye Associates on Thursday, April 9, 2020 in The Woodlands. COVID-19 has forced furloughs, foregone salaries and early retirements, and some doctors worry that patients with non-life threatening conditions are pushing off care until it’s an emergency.
In a survey of nearly 1,900 respondents conducted in September, 36 percent of Texans said they or someone in their household had skipped or postponed medical care because of COVID-19.
In the long run, those statistics don’t bode well for Texas, said Elena Marks, president of the Episcopal Health Foundation. Patients who delay or skip doctor’s visits are at higher risk of missing easily preventable illnesses. Without health insurance, many are likely to continue going without until an emergency sends them to the hospital.
“Some of the people who skipped care actually needed the care,” Marks said. “We’re bouncing back, but probably not at the rate we’ll make all of it up.”
Pushing off care until it’s an emergency means that patients will face higher medical bills later.
Marks and fellow researchers also found an interesting change: people who had at least a high school diploma and higher incomes were more likely to skip seeking care. There may be a few reasons for this: those people are more likely to have health insurance, and/or are more likely to get regular, preventive care. As a result, they might be willing to skip appointments if they’re already healthy, especially if they have a fear of catching COVID-19 in clinic lobbies and doctors’ waiting rooms.
Jared Hurt, 41, is among that group. He planned to go in for a checkup over the summer, but ultimately decided to reschedule. Hurt, who is in school to get his phlebotomy certification, said he’s healthy, with no major health conditions.
“I don’t want to put myself at further risk,” he said. He hasn’t yet set a date to see his primary care doctor.
As a greater number of people are staying away from doctors’ offices, the rate of uninsured has also risen. One-third, or 29 percent, of adult Texans between the age of 18 and 64 said they were without health insurance.
Those rates are significantly higher for Latino residents and in households earning less than $75,000 a year. Researchers found that 43 percent of Latino respondents, and 41 percent of those under the $75,000 annual income threshold, did not have coverage.
Marks said a large share of Texans get their insurance through their work, and with the pandemic forcing layoffs and furloughs nationwide, many have lost employer-sponsored insurance. About 8 percent of the respondents said they lost coverage at some point during the pandemic.
“It depends on jobs,” she said. “Are jobs coming back permanently? Employers are in a tight economy and asking if they can they still afford benefits that they provided previously.”