The pandemic dramatically disrupted the health-care system over the past three years. From free vaccines to the expansion of telemedicine, health-care consumers, people like you and me, saw services provided in ways we have never seen before. Health-care providers were affected in very significant ways as well. The demands on hospitals and the sheer number of patients suffering from COVID-19 put strains on those providing care.
But now, as the pandemic is waning, what changes can we expect in the next year and beyond? Here are some issues that are going to dramatically impact you in 2024 and some strategies on how to cope with them.
Health-care inflation will soar. While the overall rate of inflation has been dropping over the past year, health-care inflation is rapidly rising. Economists are predicting that health-care costs will increase by at least 8 percent in 2024. That’s almost three times higher than overall inflation.
Coping strategy: Review your insurance policies. Sometimes, buying a policy with higher premiums can save you money on deductibles and high co-pays. Shop around for your health insurance. Prices vary widely among insurers for similar coverage. This includes Medicare Advantage plans and Medigap insurance as well.
Rising drug prices. Even with the federal government negotiating with drug companies for lower costs on a few highly prescribed drugs, any price declines will not go into effect until at least 2026. In the meantime, pharmaceutical companies are bringing new, very expensive medicines onto the market in record numbers. In addition, these companies are raising prices on existing drugs in efforts to squeeze out profits before a product can go generic.
Coping strategy: Review your meds with your doctors. Ask if an older, cheaper drug would be as effective as newer high-priced products. If you can’t afford a high-priced medication, contact the drug’s manufacturer about payment assistance programs most companies offer.
Health worker shortages. The pandemic created a significant shortage of health-care providers as many doctors and nurses decided to retire early. As a result, hospitals, nursing homes, and larger group practices must pay significantly higher salaries to attract competent workers. And many solo practitioners and small group practices have sold their practices to large hospitals, often creating limited access to consumers.
Coping strategy: Getting appointments with specialists, even for testing, will take longer. Make appointments as far in advance as possible. Make appointments three to six months in advance for regular testing, such as mammograms or colonoscopies. If you hit roadblocks, ask your doctor’s office to intervene to help make an earlier appointment.
New technologies. That fancy machine you are hooked up to while being treated or tested is not cheap. An MRI machine starts at $1 million, and even more sophisticated technologies cost even more. All those costs get passed on to you through your co-payments, deductibles, and insurance premiums.
Coping strategy: If you have high deductibles, speak with your doctor about making sure only necessary testing is prescribed. Ask about out-of-pocket costs of a test, and let the provider know if you cannot afford it. Payment plans can be set up.