Public has 'serious' concerns about healthcare costs; blames insurance, drug companies

May 31, 2012

A new poll shows that Americans, especially those who are sickest, are worried about the rising cost of healthcare today--and they're pointing fingers.

Nearly 90% of Americans have serious concerns about the cost of healthcare, and two-thirds think the problem has worsened over the past 5 years. And they have some recommendations on the way you deliver care.

Most people blame insurance companies, drug companies, and hospitals, according to a new poll, “Sick in America,” recently released by National Public Radio (NPR), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Another 70% of Americans say high costs are due to people not taking better care of themselves and therefore requiring more medical treatment. Half blame the high cost of care on medical malpractice lawsuits.

Eight out of 10 Americans believe that problems with healthcare quality stem from people not being able to get the tests or drugs they need, and 64% attribute quality problems to health insurance companies’ influence over treatment decisions. Another 50% of the public think unnecessary tests and drugs reduce the quality of care.

Roughly half of all “sick” patients-the 27% of American adults who faced a serious illness or injury over the past year-also were concerned about cost of care, according to the poll. One in six reported not receiving the medical care they needed over the past year-52% say they could not afford it, and 24% say their insurers would not pay for the service or treatment they needed.
The number is greater for sick patients without insurance. Roughly 40% of those who have been without health insurance at some point over the past year say there was a time when they needed care and couldn’t get it, compared with 10% who had been insured for the whole year and reported the same problem.

Looking at quality of care alone, one-fourth of sick Americans say their healthcare provider didn’t give them all the information they needed about a treatment or medication, and one in eight believed they were given the wrong diagnosis, test, or treatment. Sick Americans are divided on the overall quality of the healthcare they received, with half being “very satisfied” and the rest being somewhat satisfied, dissatisfied, or indifferent.

Overall, seven out of 10 Americans polled say they want their physicians to spend more time discussing broader, long-term health issues with them rather than just a specific medical issue.

When compared with survey data collected by the American Medical Association in 1983, the new poll indicates that little has changed in the public perception of physicians over the past three decades. Roughly 70% believe today, as in 1983, that doctors are up to date on the latest medical advances, that they spend enough time with their patients (39% in 2012, 38% in 1983), and that physicians are doing their part to hold down the costs of healthcare (36% in 2012, 22% in 1983). But 64% of Americans now believe that physicians explain things well to their patients, compared with 49% in 1983. In both polls, about a third of the public said their community contained too few doctors.

The NPR/RWJF/Harvard poll is part of an ongoing series of surveys developed by the Harvard Opinion Research Program and being conducted nationally by phone.

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