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Millions know someone who died after not getting treatment

November 13, 2019

Topics: Quote of the Day

By Dan Witters
Gallup, November 12, 2019


  • 34 million adults know someone who died after not getting treatment
  • 58 million adults report inability to pay for needed drugs in past year
  • Little progress seen by Trump administration in limiting rising drug costs

More than 13% of American adults — or about 34 million people — report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it, based on a new study by Gallup and West Health. Nonwhites, those in lower-income households, those younger than 45, and political independents and Democrats are all more likely to know someone who has died under these circumstances.

These results are not meant to quantify the number of people who have died after not being able to pay for medical treatment, including prescription drugs, but rather the number of people who report knowledge of a death under such circumstances. In all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 2.8 million persons died in 2017 in the U.S. across all causes.

Dovetailing with these results is a rising percentage of adults who report not having had enough money in the past 12 months to “pay for needed medicine or drugs that a doctor prescribed” to them. This percentage has increased significantly, from 18.9% in January 2019 to 22.9% in September. In all, the 22.9% represents about 58 million adults who experienced “medication insecurity,” defined as the inability to pay for prescribed medication at least one time in the past 12 months. The increase reflects a marked rise among women of over five percentage points to 27.5%, widening the gender gap to over nine points when compared with the 18.1% rate for men.

Bottom Line

The substantial number of Americans who know someone who has died after not receiving treatment because of their inability to pay for it, coupled with the rise in the percentage who have not had enough money to pay for their prescriptions, underscores the urgency of the U.S. healthcare cost crisis. These realities starkly highlight the significant practical implications of drug prices on U.S. residents, as well as the effects of healthcare policy action — or inaction.

Only 7% of U.S. adults report that the Trump administration has accomplished “a great deal” on the issue, and voters are clearly expecting more from their elected officials than what has been accomplished in the past three years.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

People are dying because of their inability to pay for health care. Although there is a lot of political noise on the subject, the inertia is overwhelming. It’s not that we do not understand the policy solutions that would make health care affordable for everyone, we do. A single payer model of Medicare for All would work just fine. Rather it’s that we are allowing the political noise to drown out the pleas for help. Are we just going to walk away?

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About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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