Cost Factors That Affect Female Health: Tips for Women to Make Healthcare More Affordable

Cost concerns often prevent U.S. women from receiving healthcare, even when they’re aware of needed screenings. Women of Color face even greater obstacles to accessing care. Still, female consumers can take steps to improve affordability and prioritize their health. Healthcare spending in America continues to increase across communities. However, recent studies, including Healthgrades’ proprietary research, show that women face particular challenges when seeking and receiving affordable care.

This article explores the cost factors affecting women’s healthcare access in the United States, including those specific to Women of Color. It also offers guidance on improving affordability for women seeking care.

A note about sex and gender

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.

Statistics on U.S. women and healthcare spending

More than half of U.S. women have had trouble paying a medical bill, according to research released in 2022 by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation dedicated to independent research to improve healthcare.

Healthgrades released its own Women’s Health Study in July 2022. That research found that high costs are the primary reason women report holding off on seeking and receiving care.

Healthgrades found that 1 in 3 women delayed or avoided medical care due to high out-of-pocket expenses, compared to 1 in 5 men.

In a 2017 Gallup survey, women in the U.S. had the highest reported rates of delaying or avoiding care due to cost concerns compared to U.S. men and all Americans.

GroupPercent who have put off treatment due to cost
Women37%
Men22%
All Americans29%

Prescription costs

Women also report feeling discouraged from refilling costly prescriptions. More than 35% of women say they recently chose not to fill a prescription because it was expensive, compared to just 27% of men. 

Also, more than half of women given a prescription reported searching for online discounts to find deals on necessary medication. 

Illustration concept of women struggling to lift giant coin onto healthcare red cross
Illustrated by Jason Hoffman

Maternity care

The research from the Commonwealth Fund found that many U.S. women pay high out-of-pocket expenses for maternity care, even if they have health insurance. 

The average out-of-pocket costs for pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care is $2,854, according to research from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF. (KFF was formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.) 

High deductible plans and copays can put financial stress on women beyond the costs their insurer covers.

The gap between healthcare awareness and healthcare action

According to Healthgrades’ Women’s Health study, most women are aware of the health screenings doctors recommend for their age and gender but are less likely to schedule them. 

The Healthgrades research showed these key statistics for 2022: 

  • Mammograms: The majority (82%) of women over 40 know the importance of mammograms, but only 50% received one.
  • Gynecological exams: Nearly two-thirds (61%) of women over 21 know the value of routine female reproductive care, but only 37% of women had a gynecological exam.
  • Wellness care: Just over half (53%) of women had a routine physical.
  • Dental care: About 54% of women saw a dentist.
  • Cholesterol screening: Under a third (31%) of women had their cholesterol checked.
  • Colon cancer screening: Among women over age 50, only 16% have had a colonoscopy.

The gap in receiving preventive care is troubling for several reasons. Early detection is often critical to treat conditions before symptoms progress to where they can no longer be managed.

From a financial perspective, delaying an accurate diagnosis can result in complications requiring more expensive treatment, which may be necessary for several years or indefinitely.

Health cost factors for Women of Color

Cost concerns are a common barrier for all women, but for Women of Color, racial and gender issues can have an even bigger impact on care affordability. 

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.

CommunityPercent who avoided healthcare due to cost
Hispanic33%
White25%
Black17%

A 2021 report from KFF found that the uninsured rate among the non-elderly Hispanic population was 19%, among the highest in the U.S. 

This barrier to care is alarming, considering that Hispanic women are among the communities more likely to develop chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

GroupPercentage of non-elderly with no health insurance
American Indian and Alaska Native21.2%
Hispanic19%
Black10.9%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander10.8%
White7.2%

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 strongly influence how people access care and their health outcomes. 

A 2021 paper Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source 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. 

Other cultural and socioeconomic factors — such as language barriers, geographical segregation, education opportunities, and racial discrimination — can make healthcare less affordable and, as a result, less accessible for non-white women.

How women can make healthcare more affordable

Though it can feel overwhelming to navigate healthcare expenses, there are some steps women can take to identify cost savings and make their healthcare a priority.

  • Healthcare marketplace: If you do not have insurance, research your options through the Affordable Care Act. This federal resource allows you to shop for health plans on an insurance exchange based on your individual health needs.
  • Medicaid: Depending on your income, you may qualify for Medicaid coverage in your state. Visit medicaid.gov to learn more about your eligibility.
  • In-network care: Choose in-network doctors, hospitals, labs, and other medical professionals when possible. This can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
  • Deductibles: Make the most out of your deductible. Once you reach it, consider getting other medical services that same year to maximize your coverage.
  • FSA or HSA benefits: If your employer offers these tax-deferred savings accounts, you can set aside money to cover qualified medical expenses.
  • Generic drugs: Opt for generic versions of medications you need, or peruse online discount sites like Optum Perks to save up to 80% on FDA-approved medications. (Optum Perks is a sister site of Healthgrades.)
  • Asking questions: If your doctor orders a test, ask your doctor whether it is absolutely necessary and communicate that cost is a factor.
  • Comparing prices: Get quotes on procedures like MRIs, which can have wildly different costs between providers.
  • Transparency: Take advantage of price transparency laws that require hospitals to divulge service and procedure costs. 

Summary

Recent research, including a survey by Healthgrades, shows that many U.S. women delay or avoid healthcare due to cost concerns. 

This includes preventive care such as mammograms, gynecological exams, colonoscopies, and cholesterol screenings.

Women of Color face added challenges — including lower insurance rates, income disparities, language barriers, and racial discrimination — that can make healthcare less accessible due to financial worries.

Women in the U.S. can make healthcare more affordable, including seeking insurance through the Affordable Care Act, comparing medical costs across providers, and taking advantage of prescription drug discounts.

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  1. Artiga, S., et al. (2022). Health coverage by race and ethnicity, 2010-2021. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/
  2. Chinn, J. J., et al. (2021). Health equity among Black women in the United States. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8020496/
  3. DEI in health systems: Fostering an inclusive environment for a healthier future. (2022). https://b2b.healthgrades.com/insights/white-paper/dei-in-health-systems-fostering-an-inclusive-environment-for-a-healthier-future/
  4. Gunja, M. Z., et al. (2022). Health and health care for women of reproductive age. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2022/apr/health-and-health-care-women-reproductive-age
  5. Hospital price transparency frequently asked questions. (2022). https://www.cms.gov/files/document/hospital-price-transparency-frequently-asked-questions.pdf
  6. McCarthy, J. (2017). U.S. women more likely than men to put off medical treatment. https://news.gallup.com/poll/223277/women-likely-men-put-off-medical-treatment.aspx
  7. Medicaid eligibility. (n.d.). https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/eligibility/index.html
  8. Rae, M., et al. (2022). Health costs associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care. https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/brief/health-costs-associated-with-pregnancy-childbirth-and-postpartum-care/
  9. Women's Health 2023: Key trends in how women find and access care. (2022). https://b2b.healthgrades.com/insights/white-paper/womens-health-2023-key-trends-in-how-women-find-and-access-care/

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