A survey of more than 1,100 New Jersey adults, conducted from October 2 to October 24, 2022, found that:
Like many Americans, New Jersey adults experience hardship due to high healthcare costs. All told, well over half (57%) of respondents experienced one or more of the following healthcare affordability burdens in the prior 12 months:
1) Being Uninsured Due to High Costs
Nearly one-half (44%) of uninsured respondents cited “too expensive” as the major reason for not having coverage, far exceeding other reasons like “don’t need it” and “don’t know how to get it.”
2) Delaying or Going Without Healthcare Due to Cost
Nearly half (49%) of all respondents reported delaying or going without healthcare during the prior 12 months due to cost:
Moreover, 19% of respondents cited cost as the most frequently cited reason for them or a family member not getting needed medical care in the past year, exceeding a host of other barriers like getting time off work, transportation and lack of childcare.
3) Struggling to Pay Medical Bills
Other times, respondents got the care they needed but struggled to pay the resulting bill. Nearly two in five (36%) experienced one or more of these struggles to pay their medical bills:
Of the various types of medical bills, the ones most frequently associated with an affordability barrier were doctor bills, dental bills and prescription drugs. The high prevalence of affordability burdens for these services likely reflects the frequency with which New Jersey respondents seek these services. Trouble paying for dental bills likely reflects lower rates of coverage for these services.
New Jersey respondents also exhibit high levels of worry about affording healthcare in the future. Four in five (85%) reported being “worried” or “very worried” about affording some aspect of healthcare in the future, including:
While two of the most common worries—affording the cost of nursing home or home care services and medical costs when elderly—are applicable predominantly to an older population, they were most frequently reported by respondents ages 25-54. This finding suggests that New Jersey respondents may be worried about affording the cost of care for both aging parents and themselves.
Worry about affording healthcare was highest among respondents living in lower- and middle-income households and among those living in households with a person with a disability (see Table 1). More than 4 in 5 (88%) respondents with household incomes of less than $75,000 per year2 reported worrying about affording some aspect of coverage or care in the past year. Still, most New Jersey respondents of all incomes, races, ethnicities, geographic setting and levels of ability are somewhat or very concerned.
Concern that health insurance will become unaffordable is also more prevalent among certain groups of New Jersey respondents. By insurance type, respondents with coverage that they have purchased on their own, not through their employer, most frequently reported worrying about affording coverage, followed by respondents with coverage through their employer and those with New Jersey Medicaid (see Figure 1).
Respondents with household incomes below $50,000 per year reported the highest rates of worry about losing coverage, while those with household incomes between $50k and $75k reported the highest rates of worry about affording coverage. North Jersey respondents and those living in households with a person with a disability were more likely to be concerned about losing health insurance than residents in Central or South New Jersey or those living in a household without a person with a disability (see Table 2).
Concerns about affording coverage exceeded fears about losing coverage across all income groups, disability statuses, geographic settings, race, ethnicity and coverage types.
The survey also revealed differences in how New Jersey respondents experience healthcare affordability burdens by income, age, geographic setting, race, ethnicity and disability status.
Income and Age
Unsurprisingly, respondents at the lowest end of the income spectrum most frequently reported experiencing one or more healthcare affordability burdens, with more than three-fifths (68%) of those earning less than $50,000 per year reporting struggling to afford some aspect of coverage or care in the past 12 months (see Figure 2). This may be due, in part, to respondents in this income group reporting higher rates of going without care and rationing their medication due to cost (see Figure 3).
Further analysis found that New Jersey respondents ages 18-44 were more likely to go without care due to cost than respondents ages 45 and up (see Figure 4). Respondents ages 18-44 also most frequently reported rationing medication due to cost, compared to other age groups.
Those with disabilities also face healthcare affordability burdens unique to their disabilities—26% of respondents reporting a disability in their household reported delaying getting a medical assistive device such as a wheelchair, cane/walker, hearing aid or prosthetic limb due to cost. Just 6% of respondents without a person with a disability (who may have needed such tools temporarily or may not identify as having a disability) reported having this experience.
Of all the demographic groups measured, respondents living in households with a person with a disability reported the highest rates of going without care and rationing medication due to cost in the past 12 months. Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) respondents in this group reported going without some form of care and 39% reported rationing medication, compared to 43% and 18% of respondents living in households without a person with a disability, respectively (see Table 4). Respondents living in households with a person with a disability also more frequently reported delaying or skipping getting mental healthcare, addiction treatment and dental care, among other healthcare services, than those in households without a person with a disability due to cost concerns (see Table 3).
Respondents with New Jersey Medicaid coverage reported the highest rates of going without care due to cost and rationing medication, followed by respondents with private insurance (see Table 4). Still, nearly two-fifths of respondents with Medicare went without care due to cost in the twelve months prior to taking the survey.
Race and Ethnicity
New Jersey respondents of color reported higher rates of rationing medication and forgoing care than white respondents. Fifty-four percent of Black respondents and 50% of Native Alaskan, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander went without care due to cost in the past twelve months (see Table 3). Further analysis showed that respondents of color also reported higher rates of challenges receiving mental health care and skipping needed dental care (see Figure 5 and 6).
Encountering Medical Debt
The survey also showed differences in the prevalence of financial burdens due to medical bills, including going into medical debt, depleting savings and being unable to pay for basic necessities (like food, heat and housing) by income, race, ethnicity, disability status and geographic setting. Fifty percent of Black respondents and 36% of Native Alaskan, Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders reported going into debt, depleting savings or going without other needs due to medical bills, compared to 28% of white respondents (see Table 5).
The rate of financial burden is even higher for respondents who have or live with a person with a disability, with nearly three-fifths (58%) reporting going into debt or going without other needs due to medical bills, compared to 28% of respondents living in households without a disabled member. Geographically, residents across New Jersey reported similar rates of going into debt or going without other needs due to medical bills. In addition, respondents with New Jersey Medicaid reported the highest rate of the above financial burdens due to medical bills (40%) compared to respondents with all other insurance types.
In light of New Jersey respondents’ healthcare affordability burdens and concerns, it is not surprising that they are dissatisfied with the health system:
To investigate further, the survey asked about both personal and governmental actions to address health system problems.
New Jersey respondents see a role for themselves in addressing healthcare affordability. When asked about specific actions they could take:
When asked to select the top three personal actions they felt would be most effective in addressing healthcare affordability (out of ten options), the most common responses were:
But far and away, New Jersey respondents see government as the key stakeholder that needs to act to address health system problems. Moreover, addressing healthcare problems is one of the top priorities that respondents want their elected officials to work on.
At the beginning of the survey, respondents were asked what issues the government should address in the upcoming year. The top vote getters were:
When asked about the top three healthcare priorities the government should work on, the top vote getters were:
Of more than 20 options, New Jersey respondents believe the reason for high healthcare costs is unfair prices charged by powerful industry stakeholders:
When it comes to tackling costs, respondents endorsed a number of strategies, including:
There is also remarkable support for change regardless of respondents’ political affiliation (see Table 6).
The high burden of healthcare affordability, along with high levels of support for change, suggest that elected leaders and other stakeholders need to make addressing this consumer burden a top priority. Moreover, the COVID crisis has led state residents to take a hard look at how well health and public health systems are working for them, with strong support for a wide variety of actions. Annual surveys can help assess whether progress is being made.
1. Of the 49% of respondents who encountered one or more cost-related barriers to getting healthcare during the prior 12 months, 16% did not fill a prescription, while 15% cut pills in half or skipped doses of medicine due to cost.
2. Median household income in New Jersey was $85,245 (2016-2020). U.S. Census, Quick Facts. Retrieved from: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: New Jersey
3. Over 2 in 3 (70%) of respondents said that they would consider using their tax forms to sign up for free or low-cost health insurance if they or their family needed it. This high level of interest persisted across racial, and income groups, with the highest levels of interest among Black/African group respondents (77%) and those earning between $50k-$75k annually (73%).
Altarum’s Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey (CHESS) is designed to elicit respondents’ unbiased views on a wide range of health system issues, including confidence using the health system, financial burden and views on fixes that might be needed.
The survey used a web panel from Dynata with a demographically balanced sample of approximately 1,231 respondents who live in New Jersey. The survey was conducted in English or Spanish and restricted to adults ages 18 and older. Respondents who finished the survey in less than half the median time were excluded from the final sample, leaving 1,139 cases for analysis. After those exclusions, the demographic composition of respondents was as follows, although not all demographic information has complete response rates: