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Sen. FriedmanSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Sen. FriedmanSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
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BOSTON – More than half of Massachusetts adults who participated in a May survey said they’d experienced some sort of health care cost hardship in the past year and almost three-quarters said they’re worried about their ability to afford care in the future.

The advocacy organization Health Care for All on Monday released findings from the survey — which also tracked disparities among different races, income levels and regions of the state — as it called for lawmakers to pass bills addressing rising health care and prescription drug costs.

The web survey of about 1,150 Massachusetts residents aged 18 and older, conducted by Altarum Healthcare Value Hub, found that 51 percent experienced a health care “affordability burden” — not having insurance because of high premium costs, skipping or delaying care because of its cost, or struggling to pay medical bills — in the past year and 74 percent said they were either “worried” or “very worried” about affording some aspect of health care in the future.

In a brief describing the findings, Altarum said Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino residents, people with household incomes under $100,000 and Boston-area residents were most worried about affording health coverage and care, though “large percentages of respondents in all other groups” also described themselves as worried or very worried.

Altarum’s Amanda Hunt said the survey results show Massachusetts residents “are generally dissatisfied” with the health system, and that they “view government as the key stakeholder that needs to act to address health system problems.”

Fifty-eight percent of respondents identified health care as a top priority for elected officials. The areas where respondents expressed the most interest in seeing action were addressing high health care costs, including for prescription drugs (47 percent); getting health insurance to people who can’t afford coverage (38 percent) and preserving consumer protections that prevent people from being denied coverage or incurring higher charges for pre-existing conditions (36 percent).

At a virtual briefing on Monday, Health Care for All highlighted a pair of bills addressing prescription drug costs and price transparency, as well as legislation from Sen. John Keenan and Rep. Christine Barber dubbed the More Affordable Care Act.

The Barber/Keenan bill proposes reforms to the state’s health insurance rate review process and would eliminate co-pays for certain treatments for chronic conditions. Barber said it would also update the process by which the state annually measures overall health care cost growth to also include a specific benchmark for tracking increases in consumer costs.

“What we’re hearing from stakeholders and learning from research is that generally policyholders, insureds, are unaware of why their premium costs are increasing, and they’ve had a lot of difficulty getting answers when trying to learn, or they make phone calls that go unanswered,” Keenan said.

Dr. Ronald Dunlap, past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP each voiced support for the prescription drug bills filed by Health Care Financing Committee co-chair Sen. Cindy Friedman and by Barber and Rep. Jon Santiago.

Among other measures, those bills would create a Prescription Drug Cost Assistance Trust Fund that would help pay for prescription drugs used to treat hypertension, asthma, diabetes and other chronic conditions that disproportionately affect people of color and are risk factors for COVID-19 complications. Friedman said the program would be funded by an assessment on certain pharmaceutical companies.

“For the physician community, the high and continually rising cost of prescription drugs undermines our ability to provide the best clinical care possible and directly impacts the health of our patients,” Dunlap said. “The disproportionate impact drug affordability has on communities of color and the related exacerbation of disparate health outcomes is unconscionable.”

Twenty-two percent of respondents said that in the 12 months prior to the survey, they had either cut pills in half, not filled a prescription or skipped a dose of their medication because of cost concerns.

A handful of measures aimed at tackling high drug costs garnered support from a majority of respondents: requiring manufacturers to “provide advanced notice of price increases and information to justify those increases” (89 percent); setting standard drug prices “to make them affordable” (88 percent); creating a prescription drug affordability board that would “examine the evidence and establish acceptable costs for drugs” (87 percent); and prohibiting drug companies from charging more in the U.S. than other countries (85 percent).