Few things have more impact on health care for people with chronic pain than a patient’s ability to pay for it.

In order to better understand the impact income has on health care provider experiences, U.S. Pain Foundation partnered with Health Union, a network of 31 online health communities, to conduct “The Chronic Pain in America” survey in the fall of 2019. A total of 4,725 patients participated, responding to questions about chronic pain, pain management challenges, medications, quality of life measures, and more.

To communicate the information gathered from the survey, Health Union created a poster that illustrates the relationship between finances, access to treatment, and provider experiences. The poster abstract was accepted into the 2021 meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), which took place virtually on April 23-25 with the theme “Effective Pain Care Is Multimodal.”

Among the findings highlighted in the poster was that many individuals with pain are financially disadvantaged. Approximately one-third of respondents had a household income of $30,000 or less. Patients with low incomes are not just at a financial disadvantage when it comes to accessing care: they also report experiencing more bias and stigma from health care professionals. People with an income under $55,000 were more likely to indicate their providers would not prescribe them pain medication than those with higher incomes (38.6% vs 31.6%). The same group was also more likely to report being made to feel like drug seekers by their doctors (16.6% vs 12.1%).

The authors for the poster presentation are Health Union’s Graceann Palmarella, MPH, director of community development; Brian Green, MS, vice president of community business solutions; and Kaitlyn McNamara, associate director of insights operations.

“We are so grateful to Health Union for shedding light on this issue,” said Nicole Hemmenway, CEO of the U.S. Pain Foundation. “The sad reality is that most people with pain cannot afford the health care that they need. Hopefully, this poster helped doctors and other providers at AAPM understand the complicated relationship between income and health care experiences.”

View the poster abstract here. View the full survey results here.