Mar 24, 2023



How Financial Concerns are Costing Women Their Health

Cost concerns are a common barrier for many women—but health system and pharma marketers can help supply them with the tools and resources to access the care they need.

Let’s be frank: healthcare in the United States is expensive. Even with a comprehensive health insurance plan, out-of-pocket costs can add up, especially when chronic conditions warrant extra hospital visits, out-of-network appointments, and lifelong prescriptions. Not all patients can afford to go to the doctor when needed—however, women are the most impacted by cost concerns.

In a recent study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, more than half of the women surveyed said they had trouble paying a medical bill. Financial barriers can serve as a strong deterrent to women seeking care and, if left unaddressed, may even cost them their lives. In this article, we’ll explore cost factors impacting healthcare affordability and accessibility for women and what marketers can do to minimize this deep-rooted issue and encourage female patients to get the care they need.

Disclaimer: Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the terms “female/women” and “male/men” to discuss people assigned female or male at birth, respectively, to reflect language that appears in source materials.

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender.

Out-of-Pocket Costs Are Keeping Women Out of Doctors’ Offices

Research from Healthgrades’ Women’s Health Study shows that 1 in 3 women recently delayed or avoided preventative care due to cost concerns, compared to just 1 in 5 men.1 Skipping regular appointments poses a significant health risk: the longer an illness goes undiagnosed or untreated, the more symptoms can progress to a point where they cannot be effectively managed.

High expenses affect women disproportionately partly because they require more medical services than men. For example, women have to book appointments to screen for reproductive and hormonal disorders regularly. Patients receiving maternity care must undergo frequent doctor visits and a multi-day hospital stay upon delivery. And since women also have a longer life expectancy than men, they can expect more years of treating age-related conditions. As a result, women are more likely than men to be confronted with expensive bills throughout their lifetime.

Cost Concerns Are Creating a Gap Between Awareness and Action

Healthgrades found that most women are aware of the health screenings they should get for their age and gender, but general adherence is low. For example, in the past year:

  • 61% of women know they should be getting gynecological exams, but only 37% of women did so.2
  • Only 54% of women had a dental exam, and 53% received a physical.2

Women also tend to feel discouraged from refilling costly prescriptions. More than 35% of women have recently chosen not to fill a prescription because it was expensive, compared to just 27% of men. Additionally, over half of women who were given a prescription reported searching for online discounts to find deals on necessary medication.2

Seeking preventative care can help patients save money by catching a disease or condition early in its path before it requires additional medical care. From a financial perspective, delaying an accurate diagnosis can result in complications that require more expensive treatment, which can last for several years or even indefinitely.

But for many women, even the cost of preventative care can feel like it’s too much.

Health Insurance Doesn’t Always Help

Too often, women find themselves faced with the decision to sacrifice either their health or livelihood. While health insurance coverage can help ease the financial strain of keeping up with medical payments, it isn’t the only answer. 

High-deductible health plans are increasingly common, but not everyone can easily meet the deductible. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has allowed people to shop for health plans on an insurance exchange. Yet many still struggle with finding the right plan, don’t qualify for subsidies, or still consider available options financially out of reach.

Even for insured women, complicated health cases or chronic conditions may necessitate visits to out-of-network healthcare professionals. 

Cost Doesn’t Affect All Patients to the Same Degree

Cost concerns are a common barrier for all women, but for Women of Color, a combination of racial and gender issues can make care even less affordable.

Hispanic adults are the least likely to have health insurance and receive preventative care than any other patient group. A 2019 report by the U.S. Office of Health Policy found that the uninsured rate among the Hispanic population was 20%, compared to a rate of 8% among non-Hispanic patients. In our own BIPOC Healthcare Attitudes Study, Healthgrades found that 33% of Hispanic respondents avoided healthcare in the past year because of cost concerns, compared to 17% of Black patients and 25% of White patients.3 This is alarming, considering that Hispanic women are more likely to develop chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Why is there such a glaring gap? Most health disparities stem from social determinants of health: the conditions where people live, work, learn, mingle, and worship. These factors strongly influence how people access care and their health outcomes. 

A 2021 paper in the Journal of Women’s Health discusses factors that affect health equity among Black women. Income is a primary challenge, with Black women earning an average of $5,500 less per year than U.S. women on average.

In a perfect world, no barrier should get in the way of receiving what could be life-saving care. So what can pharma and health system marketers do to help patients prioritize their health, even when obstacles exist?

How to Help Women Overcome Cost Concerns 

Sometimes, all patients need is some extra support during their healthcare journey. As a marketer, you can show patients that high-quality healthcare is within reach by providing the resources they need to make well-informed decisions.

With price transparency laws in effect, health system marketers should embed service prices into campaigns. Without transparency into cost information, patients may assume that a certain procedure or service is out of their budget when it could be more affordable than they realize. Making price points visible allows patients to factor in insurance costs and gain accurate insight into possible out-of-pocket expenses.

Pharma marketers should also follow suit and give women visibility into treatment cost information. Although cheaper, generic alternatives may be available, you can boost attraction to your brand by referring women to online discount sites for deals on your prescription medications. By emphasizing the accessibility of your treatment options, women will feel more confident bringing up your brand during their next doctor’s appointment.

With some research, thoughtful planning, and communication with the right doctor, patients can stick to their medical plan without worrying about how much it’ll cost.

Guide Women to Healthcare They Deserve with Healthgrades

Half of all Americans who see a doctor this year will visit—and 66% of our site visitors are women.4 By partnering with Healthgrades, you can engage the largest population of qualified patients searching for care online when they’re ready to take action. 

As a Healthgrades partner, health systems can reach an extended audience and experience more visits with premium placement opportunities. We offer prominent branding and CTAs on physician search results pages as well as on HCP profiles to ensure that consumers see your hospital first. Our competitive intercept feature redirects appointment opportunities from your competitors by showing alternative options from your health system on competing systems’ profiles, making it easier for women to find physicians and specialists they trust at your health system. 

For pharma brands, Healthgrades helps you engage more women seeking treatment. Our Guided Physician Search tool, integrated into our best-in-class editorial content and your brand’s website, helps consumers find specialists when treatment is on their minds. Patients can browse clinician profiles for almost every healthcare professional in the country and vet their options based on search criteria like gender, frequency of treatment, medical specialty, average patient ratings, and more. Helping women find qualified specialists makes prioritizing their health and leading treatment discussions a smoother process. 

Contact us today to learn more about how Healthgrades can help you uplift women and become a valuable asset in their healthcare journey.

1 Healthgrades Women’s Health Study, July 2022.
2 COVID Patient Confidence Pulse Survey, October 2022, n=991
3 Infosurv and Healthgrades BIPOC Healthcare Attitudes Study, n=604, July 2022
4 Healthgrades Site Study, 2022.