The United States of America is without a doubt one of the most advanced nations in the world regarding social, economic, and technological integration. Despite this fact, access to healthcare remains one of the biggest challenges facing the country. The Institute of Medicine defines access to health is defined as “the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best possible health outcomes.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022). A lot has been done through health reforms to help the issue of access but still, little progress has been made to this point. Contrary to the popular notion that access issues in healthcare are a disadvantage to people including the poor and the minority communities, the middle class and the upper-class Americans living in the countryside also have difficulties in having timely and proper access to healthcare services. The fact that limitations to healthcare cut across the existing social divides is an indication enough to conclude that many people in America face many challenges and difficulties that hinder their access to unlimited healthcare services leading to an increment in undesirable health outcomes for the population and widening health disparities.
The Main Barriers to Healthcare Access in the United States
The most dominating barrier to healthcare in the United States is the high healthcare costs. The CDC reported that 4.5 percent of Americans were unable to access appropriate healthcare services citing high costs (2020). While this representation may appear insignificant, it translates to approximately 13 million people in need of healthcare services but were unable to have access (Heath, 2022). This goes on despite the existing federal health programs aimed to assist the general populace in accessing healthcare services. One reason for this situation is that many disadvantaged Americans reside in states where Medicaid benefits are yet to be extended under the Affordable care Act (ACA) and are therefore rendered ineligible for financial aid. Federal programs were put in place to solve access issues and ensure healthcare services are affordable and accessible to everyone. It is, however, ironic that the Affordable Care Act is yet to achieve its objective as millions of Americans have failed to afford the cover citing high costs. This has left many American resorting to out-of-pocket healthcare funding, and equally costly option. It, therefore, suffices to conclude that the high cost of healthcare is the biggest barrier to access to healthcare.
Another barrier to health care access in America is limited healthcare resources available against the vast population and geographical characteristics of the country. This is especially associated with people living in rural areas. According to Statista, approximately 57 million Americans reside in the countryside (Heath, 2022). However, a larger percentage of medical facilities and specialists are located in urban and semi-urban areas. This means that the 57 million people living in the rural encounter greater obstacles in accessing medical services than those living in urban locales. Healthcare barriers associated with this population include an unbalanced patient-doctor ratio, inadequate healthcare providers and other interconnected challenges such as geographical distance. Inadequacy of practitioners is equally affecting people living in urban areas. A recent investigation found that the average waiting time for a patient to see a physician is 24 days (Rege, 2017). This is despite the availability of more providers and reduced geographical constraints in urban areas. The long appointment periods lead to worsening of patients’ health which in turn translates to higher costs to effectively remedy the conditions.
Transportation barrier is also a major limitation to healthcare access. A patient could have good health insurance coverage and equally have access to unlimited resources including facilities and medical personnel but still be affected by transportation obstacles. According to AHA to the data provided by American Hospital Association, (2022), almost 3.5 million Americans’ healthcare access challenges due to a lack of adequate transport means. Although most health facilities have emergency response vehicles, they are not effective considering the high number of patients in need of the service (Locatelli et al., 2017). The most common transport-related barriers include lack of proper vehicles, high costs associated with emergency transport, inadequate infrastructure, and long travel distances for the rural populations. These obstacles often hinder patients from accessing timely healthcare services leading to otherwise complications and further deterioration of patients’ health that would otherwise have been prevented. Medical organizations have begun to address this issue of transportation and trying to find a lasting solution to the problem. Technology has emerged as one of the most viable options for bridging the existing barriers to healthcare access. Health providers are looking toward telemedicine to improve access to healthcare and reach as many patients as possible.
In conclusion, the three main barriers to healthcare access in the United States include cost, limited healthcare resources including both physical and human, and transportation barriers. Even though the U.S is one of the most advanced countries in terms of social and economic development, majority of its population face numerous obstacles to accessing timely and appropriate healthcare services. Various measures including the provision of federal healthcare cover have been implemented to improve access, but the majority of the people remain blocked from appropriate healthcare services. However, with technological advancements telemedicine could be the ultimate solution considering costs, the ability to serve numerous patients, and its convenience.
American Hospital Association. (2022). Social determinants of health series: Transportation.
Locatelli, S. M., Sharp, L. K., Syed, S. T., Bhansari, S., & Gerber, B. S. (2017). Measuring Health-related Transportation Barriers in Urban Settings. Journal of applied measurement, 18(2), 178–193.
Rege, A. (2017). Patient wait times in America. Hospital Review.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Access of Health Services. HealthyPeople.gov. Web.