A survey from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts found that the number of people concerned about health costs has jumped in last two years

Health bills are increasingly vexing Massachusetts residents, with two out of five putting off care because of the cost.

That’s the big takeaway from a new survey released Wednesday by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts that shows three-quarters of respondents view co-pays or bills as a major problem, up 12 percentage points from 2022. Meanwhile, two-thirds said they see both the costs of monthly health insurance premiums and the costs of prescription drugs to be a problem, also up by double digits from two years ago.

How much of a problem have different costs been for Massachusetts families’ finances?

The share of respondents who view health care co-pays or bills as a major problem is up 12 percentage points from 2022.

Blue Cross Blue Shield released the results of the poll — a survey of 1,000 adults taken within the past few weeks — on Wednesday as part of a broader effort by the Boston-based nonprofit health insurer to sound the alarm about health costs. Last week, chief executive Sarah Iselin spoke to Associated Industries of Massachusetts, warning AIM members to expect tough negotiations ahead because of the high increases in reimbursements that many health care providers are seeking.

The survey also coincides with the latest report from the state Health Policy Commission on health care inflation in Massachusetts, which showed it rose 5.8 percent in 2022, or nearly twice as fast as the benchmark established by state officials for that year.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic likely played a role in that increase, which followed a 9 percent jump in 2021, Iselin said she wouldn’t be surprised to see that similarly high inflation continued in 2023 and 2024.

“I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s moderating,” she said in an interview.

In the latest Blue Cross survey, about 40 percent of respondents said they delayed seeking care because of the expense, roughly the same share as two years ago.

How often do Mass. residents put off seeing a doctor or receiving care at a hospital because of the cost?

Of the 40 percent of respondents who put off care, 51 percent were under age 45, and 48 percent earned less than $50,000 a year.

“We’ve 4 four out of 10 people reporting that they are pushing off health care they need because they can’t afford it,” Iselin said “It’s deeply concerning and troubling for all of us. … This shows us we’re at a critical moment where health care costs are growing faster than they have at a time when consumers are telling us that they can’t afford even where we are right now.”

Among the changes Iselin would like policymakers to consider: stronger penalties for hospitals and health plans that significantly exceed the state’s health cost benchmarks.

“We established a health care cost benchmark, and it had a real mitigating and material effect in helping us collectively keep costs [in check],” she said. “What we’ve seen is that’s not the case anymore. That target is not greeted with the same level of authority and seriousness. The consequences, if we don’t hit it, they’re not particularly strong.”

Retailers Association of Massachusetts president Jon Hurst said he wasn’t surprised by the Blue Cross poll results. They are in line with what he’s hearing from his members: A recent survey of 100 or so small-business members of RAM showed an average health insurance premium renewal increase of 7.5 percent for 2024 — a reflection, he said, of the rising costs of hospital care and prescription drugs.

“They’re important employers, but that doesn’t authorize them to have a blank check,” Hurst said, referring to health care providers and drug companies.

The small businesses who belong to RAM, he said, typically see premium increases that are double or triple the state’s benchmark. So in that respect, the increases for premiums those members are seeing this year are in line with what they saw in previous years.

“I’m glad Sarah has taken the lead on this,” Hurst said. “I’m glad they got the data. It’s not any surprise to my members nor is it a surprise that consumers, which only have so many dollars to spend, are kind of fed up with higher costs in general.”

At the State House hearing on health care costs last week, Steve Walsh, president of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, pleaded with lawmakers and Health Policy Commission members to consider the “deep crisis” that the state’s entire system of health care providers faces today. The state’s affordability goals, he added, will be tough to reach until some of the hospitals’ severe challenges are addressed.

The pandemic, Walsh said, continues to have lasting impacts on his group’s members, as evidenced by the thousands of unfilled jobs at hospitals and big backlogs with patients waiting to be moved to a post-acute care facility that can take them.

“It’s hard to measure trends over the past four years,” Walsh said. “The country closed [at the start of the pandemic] but hospitals stayed open and haven’t closed since.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him @jonchesto.

Read the original report in The Boston Globe by clicking here.

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