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A slow economy could be bad for your health

The sickly economy is causing many Americans to skip doctor visits, skimp on their medicine and put off mammograms, Pap smears and other important medical tests. Physicians worry the result will be sicker patients who need costlier treatment in the long run.

The numbers show Americans are increasingly putting their health at risk:

  • More and more are postponing needed care, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week. The portion who said they or a family member had put off needed care climbed to 36% in the Oct. 8-13 telephone poll, up from 29% in April. Almost one-third had skipped a recommended test or treatment, up from 24%. In both cases, about one-fifth said their condition got worse as a result.
  • The number of prescriptions filled dropped more than 0.4% for the quarter ending in June -- the first time it hasn't risen, according to IMS Health, which has been tracking such data for 12 years.
  • A July survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that 11% of Americans had either reduced the number of prescription medicines they take or cut the dosage by such means as splitting pills in half.
  • Elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, diagnostic tests and outpatient procedures fell roughly 1% to 2% in recent months at many hospitals, said Dick Clarke, the president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. Though the decline seems small, the numbers typically climb 2% to 4% a year as the population ages.
  • U.S. hospitals are reporting an uptick in emergency-room patients, according to the American Hospital Association. Clarke said that includes a rise in uninsured patients with conditions that could have been treated elsewhere, and he expects that to increase.

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