The Economic Crisis and Medical Care Usage

by Annamaria Lusardi, Daniel Schneider & Peter Tufano

Overview — The global economic crisis has taken a historic toll on national economies and household finances around the world. What is the impact of such large shocks on individuals and their behavior, especially on their willingness to seek routine medical care? In this research, Annamaria Lusardi of Dartmouth College, Daniel Schneider of Princeton University, and Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School find strong evidence that the economic crisis—manifested in job and wealth losses—has led to large reductions in the use of routine medical care. Specifically, more than a quarter of Americans reported reducing their use of such care, as did between 5 and 12 percent of Canadian, French, German, and British respondents. Key concepts include:

  • Large shares of Americans reduced their use of routine medical care since the economic crisis.
  • These reductions were strongly related to economic distress brought on by the global financial crisis as measured by wealth loss and unemployment.
  • The across-the-board reduction in medical care usage by Americans may speak to behavioral changes that reflect the national psyche broadly: The economic crisis in the United States—deeper and more widespread than elsewhere—may have touched the population at large, perhaps via negative expectations about the future.
  • The cutbacks in health-care usage by people losing wealth or jobs, even in countries with "universal" systems, may reflect the fact that seeking care entails not only out-of-pocket expenses, but also costs of time away from work or job hunting.
  • Reductions in routine care today might lead to undetected illness tomorrow and reduced individual health and well-being in the more distant future.

Author Abstract

We use a unique, nationally representative cross-national dataset to document the reduction in individuals' usage of routine non-emergency medical care in the midst of the economic crisis. A substantially larger fraction of Americans have reduced medical care than have individuals in Great Britain, Canada, France, and Germany, all countries with universal health care systems. At the national level, reductions in medical care are related to the degree to which individuals must pay for it, and within countries are strongly associated with exogenous shocks to wealth and employment. 24 pages.

Paper Information