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Health Freedom Watch
November 2006

National Survey: Americans’ Views on Health Care and Options for Reform

While Iraq was the most important issue in the recent voting, the economy and health care tied for second going into the election, according to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Thirty percent of 1,200 respondents questioned in October said their top consideration in voting for Congress would be Iraq, while 15 percent each cited the economy and health care.

In September, ABC News/Kaiser Family Foundation/USA Today conducted a national survey on health care, which was released in October. The survey of 1,201 adults revealed the following findings (among others) that may be of particular interest to Health Freedom Watch readers:


  • Most Americans said they were unhappy with the cost of health care generally (versus their own care):  80 percent were dissatisfied, while only 18 percent were satisfied (2 percent didn’t know).
  • A majority, 54 percent, said they were dissatisfied with the quality of health care in general (44 percent were satisfied, and 2 percent didn’t know).
  • However, when asked about their own care, 57 percent said they were satisfied with the cost (40 percent were dissatisfied) and 89 percent said they were satisfied with the quality (10 percent were dissatisfied).
Problems Paying Medical Bills
  • Asked whether they or a family member had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months, 75 percent said no and 25 percent responded yes.
  • Interestingly, 69 percent of those who had problems paying their bills had insurance.  Thirty-one percent were uninsured.
  • Twenty-eight percent said they or a family member had put off medical treatment because of the cost; 72 percent had not put off treatment because of cost.
Perceived Reasons for Rising Health-Care Costs
  • When asked what was driving rising health-care costs, half said “drug/insurance companies making too much money.” Others cited the following as “one of the single biggest factors in rising health care costs” (respondents were able to select multiple factors):
    • Too many medical malpractice suits (37 percent)
    • Fraud and waste in the health-care system (37 percent)
    • Doctors/hospital making too much money (36 percent)
    • Administrative costs in handling insurance claims (30 percent)
    • People getting treatments they don’t really need (30 percent)
    • People needing more care due to unhealthy lifestyles (29 percent)
    • Use of expensive new drugs/treatments/technology (28 percent)
    • The aging population (23 percent)
    • More people are getting better medical care (12 percent)
Opinions on Universal Health Insurance

When asked whether reducing costs or increasing the number of insured was more important, 50 percent said reducing costs, while 42 percent said covering the uninsured. The survey also asked respondents to choose between universal health insurance and the existing employer-sponsored insurance system.  A majority favored a universal system, but that support dropped significantly when some of the possible downsides of such a plan were cited:
  • When asked, “Which would you prefer: the current health-insurance system, in which most people have coverage through private employers, but some people have no insurance, or a universal coverage program, in which everyone is covered by a program like Medicare that is government-run and financed by taxpayers?” 56 percent said they favored the universal program, 40 percent the current system, and 4 percent didn’t know.
  • However, only about a third (35 percent) would still support a universal health-insurance system if it meant higher premiums or more taxes. Support for a universal health-insurance system dropped to less than a third if it:
    • Meant waiting lists for non-emergency treatments (33 percent),
    • Limited their choice of doctors (28 percent), or
    • Eliminated coverage for some treatments (18 percent).
Significantly, the survey report states, “About half of Americans think a universal care system would have little effect on their own personal health care in terms of quality, choice, availability, and cost. Among those who do anticipate a difference in quality, twice as many see a negative effect as a positive one. Even among those who support the concept, just a third (34 percent) say universal health care would improve their own health care costs.” (Emphasis added.)

Governmental Options for Increasing Coverage

The national survey asked whether the government should expand various options for increasing coverage.  Only about a third (35 percent) felt “strongly” that government should “require all Americans to have insurance and offer aid to low-income people to pay for it.”  Consider the percentage of respondents who thought government should do the following: 
  • Offer tax breaks to businesses that provide insurance for their employees: 61 percent strongly, 25 percent somewhat.
  • Expand state programs to cover low-income people without insurance: 54 percent strongly, 28 somewhat.
  • Require businesses to offer private insurance for full-time employees: 69 percent strongly, 10 percent somewhat.
  • Offer tax credits or other aid to help low-income people buy private insurance: 49 percent strongly, 30 percent somewhat.
  • Expand Medicare to cover people between 55 and 64 who do not have health insurance: 55 percent strongly, 20 percent somewhat.
  • Require all Americans to have insurance and offer aid to low-income people to pay for it: 35 percent strongly, 29 percent somewhat.
  • Require businesses to offer private insurance for part-time employees: 44 percent strongly, 19 percent somewhat.
Most Effective Way to Control Health-Care Costs

Americans think “letting individuals shop around for the best prices they can get for health care and health insurance” would be a more effective means for controlling health-care costs compared to the existing system (in which employers purchase insurance for workers) or having the government regulate costs.

Respondents were asked “Do you think the following are/would be very effective, somewhat effective, not too effective, or not at all effective in controlling health care costs?” (Note: they were not asked to choose among the following options):
  • Let individuals shop around for the best prices they can get for health care and health insurance: 37 percent found this solution very effective, 43 percent somewhat effective.
  • Keep the current health-care system, in which employers purchase workers’ health insurance: 11 percent found this solution very effective, 56 percent somewhat effective.
  • Have the government regulate health-care costs: 21 percent found this solution very effective, 41 percent somewhat effective.
Summary

All told, the survey found that Americans think it is more important to reduce health-care costs than to expand coverage. A noteworthy finding is that citizens do not support a universal health-insurance system if it means higher premiums or taxes, or limits their choices and access to care. The most favored way to reduce health-care costs is to encourage individuals to shop around for the best prices for care and insurance.

Sources:
  • “Health Poll Report Survey: Voters on Health Care and the 2006 Elections,” Kaiser Family Foundation (publication #7577), October, 2006.
  • “Health Care in America 2006 Survey,” ABC News/Kaiser Family Foundation/USA Today (publication #7572), October 2006.

Health Freedom Watch is published by the Insitute for Health Freedom. Editor: Sue Blevins; Assistant Editor: Deborah Grady. Copyright 2006 Institute for Health Freedom.