What Americans really want in healthcare reform
This is a great analysis of healthcare polling by Humphrey Taylor, head of The Harris Poll (via The Health Care Blog):
However, if you study all the polls, as opposed to cherry picking them as many politicians do, a clear picture of public opinion emerges:
- Most people are unhappy with the current health care system and favor reform. They want to have a system that gives them affordable access to quality care for the rest of their lives. International surveys show that Americans are more dissatisfied with the U.S. health care system than are people in all, or almost all, other developed countries.
- Most people think that some kind of government intervention is needed to fix the system, to expand coverage, and to contain costs. However, support for government intervention does not, in most case, translate into support for a “government-run” system. (Though what people understand by that phrase is far from clear.)
- While most people believe that fundamental changes are needed in our health care system, only a minority wants to completely rebuild it. Most people favor building on the present system and the bits of it that seem to work well.
- There is substantial support for health care reform not only among the public but from large majorities of almost all major interest groups. Only small minorities of doctors, employers or insurers think that the system works pretty well now. However, they also have different interests and tend to see very different problems and support or oppose different proposals.
- Most people are at least reasonably satisfied with their own health insurance (if they have it) and with the quality of care that they receive. However, that does not mean that they like the system. Most people believe that the costs are too high and that everyone should be covered.
- More people think that both the total cost and the out-of-pocket costs of care are too high, but their perceptions of why this is so are different from those of most health economists. They often blame greedy insurers and pharmaceutical companies and think there is a lot of fraud and abuse. But they are less likely to focus on over-utilization, the impact of fee-for-service incentives and the relatively (compared to other countries) high price of medical services.
- Few people seem to worry much about the unfunded liability for Medicare that economists tell us is a huge problem.
- Proposals that people believe will take away the health insurance they have now, or force them to change doctors, that “ration” care, or prevent them from getting the treatments they think they need are deeply unpopular.
- There is no consensus on the appropriate roles of the government, employers and individuals. Half of the population thinks that health insurance and health care should be “an entitlement paid for by taxes,” while a third believes that it should be like other products and services, where you get what you can pay for.
- Republicans and Democrats are highly polarized on many aspects of reform. Most Democrats think that this is a very important issue and focus on expanding coverage and limiting out-of-pocket costs. They tend to favor an expanded role for government. Most Republicans focus on cost containment and oppose a bigger role for government. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to think that health care is a “right.”
- There are many things that many people do not want. They do not want to pay much higher taxes and out-of-pocket costs. They don’t want to damage the economy or increase unemployment. They dislike the idea of rationing and oppose anything that they think might reduce the quality of their care or limit their choices.
- Most people do not think or talk about the issues that are the focus of much debate among policy wonks, think-tanks, and legislators. They rarely mention health information technology, comparative effectiveness reviews, a health information exchange, reimbursement reform, pay-for-performance, quality measures, or outcomes research. When asked about these issues, the public’s replies vary dramatically, depending on whether the language used is that of the proponents or opponents of proposals. For example, a new agency to provide information on which treatments work better or worse sounds pretty good – but not if it is used to deny care that a doctor or patient wants.
- Most people do not seem to see a conflict between giving patients every test and treatment they and their doctors want, however expensive, and containing costs.