Americans cutting back on health care

WASHINGTON — Many Americans have been putting off doctors' visits, forgoing medical tests and taking expired medications to save money over the past year, according to a new poll by Consumers Union.

The survey by the nonpartisan organization found that 51 percent of Americans have "faced difficult health care choices in the past year."

Despite overwhelming concern about how to pay for health care, however, there's still no clear public or political consensus on how to overhaul the system.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take a final vote on its plan later this week or early next week, with Democrats split over whether to create a government-run alternative to private health insurance or set up a system of co-ops, nonprofit member-run insurance companies.

A McClatchy-Ipsos survey conducted last Thursday through Monday found that while 53 percent of Americans favored a public health-insurance plan "to make sure all Americans have access to quality health care," another 42 percent thought that sufficient changes could occur without a public plan.

"People are really split," said Rebecca Sizelove, senior research manager at Ipsos Public Affairs.

However, they're increasingly concerned about the state of their own health care. According to the Consumers Union poll, 28 percent have lost or endured cutbacks in coverage in the past year, and the trend has been widespread across income groups. Thirty-four percent of those with household incomes of less than $50,000 annually experienced those changes, but so did 21 percent of those with household incomes above $100,000.

The Consumers Union survey of 1,002 adults from Sept. 17 to 20 found that among the ways people have tried to cut back on health care costs:

* 28 percent put off doctors' visits.

* 25 percent have been unable to afford medical bills or medication.

* 22 percent put off medical procedures.

* 20 percent declined medical tests.

* 20 percent skipped filling prescriptions.

* 15 percent took expired medication.

* 15 percent skipped scheduled dosages of prescriptions.

The problems were more prevalent among households with incomes of less than $50,000, in which about two-thirds said they'd cut back on health care because of costs.