As inflation takes a toll, Americans face tough decisions about medical care

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There are medicines that Angelina Scott can’t live without. Between her Atrial Fibrillation, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the 45-year-old notary is currently taking five prescriptions.

“You can’t tell your heart, please don’t stop beating,” Scott told CNN.

But with sky high inflation and hundreds of dollars in monthly medical bills, Scott and her husband, a maintenance worker, are falling behind financially.

To cut costs, she’s stopped taking medicine for her irritable bowel syndrome, which she says cost several hundred dollars each month because insurance won’t cover it.

“People will [say], you can’t afford not to. No, literally I cannot afford to,” Scott said, adding that forgoing the medicine “makes me fatigued, lethargic, I get the shakes, very sickly.”

As high inflation takes a toll on household finances, millions of Americans are facing the same brutal decisions.

In June, US healthcare costs were up 4.5% from the year before, lagging overall inflation, which jumped 9.1% over the same 12-month period. But with the price of food, gas, rent and utilities surging at a far higher pace, many Americans are struggling to afford things like medical care.

“What this leads people to do is have to make horrible tradeoffs between paying for their medication or their diagnostic test or seeing their physician or their doctor and having to pay for basic cost of living – their gas, their food, their groceries, their childcare ,” said Patient Advocate Foundation CEO Alan Balch.

A new survey from Gallup and West Health found nearly two in five adults – an estimated 98 million Americans – have delayed or skipped treatment, cut back on driving, utilities and food, or borrowed money, just to pay medical bills in the last six months.

Roughly one in four adults are skipping care or medicine due to rising costs, the survey found. And 39% have major concerns about affording care in the coming months.

“Inflation and its impact on health care are breaking families and breaking individuals and we need to wake up and act,” said West Health President Tim Lash.

Libby Dancy, 71, is a case manager for an organization that helps struggling seniors in rural Virginia. But she herself can’t afford to retire.

“I’ll be working here probably until they find me laid out back there in my office,” Dancy said.

A three-time cancer survivor, she spends hundreds of dollars each month on critical medicine like heart pills, breathing treatments and insulin. So she’s tightening her budget: keeping her air conditioning off in the summer heat, and forgoing her allergy medication, probiotics, and vitamins until payday.

“It [has] messed me up, messed my system up and everything,” Dancy said. “With the allergy medicine not taken, I sneeze a lot, my eyes water a lot and itch a lot. I get queasy, and then my asthma kicks in. And then I have to go to the breathing treatments, which are expensive.”

High healthcare costs have long been a financial burden for millions of Americans, rising faster than inflation in recent decades. But now, surging costs for other everyday necessities are adding to the strain.

Rising inflation has sent US household debt to a record high, more than $16 trillion during the second quarter.

For some, the budget balancing act grows more difficult by the day.

“I feel like it’s suffocating me slowly,” said Scott. “Why do I have to choose between living and living?”