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August 25, 2021
David Burda
Consumerism Economics Outcomes

What Your Customers Do When They Can’t Afford Medical Care

I found this when I was looking for something else. 

In Accenture’s Digital Adoption in Healthcare: Reaction or Revolution? report, I came across some interesting stats on what people do when they can’t afford the care that they need.

The digital health report is based on Accenture’s 2021 Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey, which the company released on Aug. 6. You can download the full 27-page report with the survey results here

Accenture asked 1,755 adults age 18 or older a bunch of questions in five different areas of healthcare: access, equity, service experience, digital technology adoption and trust. I was eyeing the digital technology adoption stuff for another story. But I think the affordability stuff is really telling about changes in the ways consumers interact with an increasingly expensive healthcare system.

Accenture asked this question: “Which, if any, of the following have you ever personally done when you could not afford either medical care or medications?” Accenture broke the responses down by generations: Baby Boomers (age 57-74); Gen X (age 42-56); and Millennials (age 25-41).

Here’s what each generation said: 

  • 37 percent of Gen Xers said they treated their medical condition with an over-the-counter medication (compared with 27 percent of Baby Boomers and 23 percent of Millennials)
  • 37 percent of Gen Xers said they delayed a medical treatment or medication (compared with 23 percent of Baby Boomers and 22 percent of Millennials)
  • 29 percent of Gen Xers said they skipped an appointment with a medical provider (compared with 19 percent of Millennials and 16 percent of Baby Boomers)
  • 25 percent of Gen Xers said they declined medical treatment and/or medication (compared with 19 percent of Millennials and 17 percent of Baby Boomers)
  • 18 percent of Millennials said they rationed their prescriptions (compared with 17 percent of Gen Xers and 12 percent of Baby Boomers)
  • 23 percent of Millennials said they used rebates, non-profit services or other forms of financial assistance to get the medical care or medications they needed (compared with 13 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of Baby Boomers
  • 16 percent of Millennials said they used digital technologies (compared with 6 percent of Gen Xers and 3 percent of Baby Boomers)
  • 15 percent of Millennials said they used digital therapeutics (compared with 1 percent each for  Gen Xers and Baby Boomers)

A few things should jump out at you, including the strong possibility that Baby Boomers have zero idea what digital therapeutics are.

First, Gen Xers, those age 42 to 56, are feeling the pinch from high-priced healthcare more than other age groups. I guess that makes sense because at that age, many people have a lot of other big financial responsibilities like mortgage payments, car payments and college tuition bills.  

Second, Millennials, those age 25 to 41, are more likely to use lower-cost technologies to replace high-priced healthcare than other age groups. Again, I guess that makes sense given Millennials’ tech-savvy upbringing. They’re also less afraid to seek financial assistance compared with Baby Boomers who either have the money or are loathed to ask for help when they don’t.   

This is why consumer behavior and market segmentation data are critical to the success of payer and provider organizations that say they’re customer focused. Your high premiums, co-payments, deductibles and prices affect each of your customers differently. You will lose business if you treat all your customers the same. 

The survey results also are a blueprint for healthcare entrepreneurs and innovators who want to offer market-based solutions that make care more accessible by making it more affordable. The results tell you what each age group does when it can’t pay for care. That’s the void you can fill, the unmet need you can meet, the job to be done.

I’ll work that digital health technology stuff into another story. 

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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