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Americans’ View of Health System

By October 17, 2011Commentary

The Employee Benefits Research Institute does an annual survey of Americans’ views of the health system and their personal health situation.  This year’s results were released recently and collects information from about 1000 people.   (EBRI Report)   From a big picture perspective, health care is no longer at the top of the critical issues list for most people.  The economy is the most critical issue for 32%, while health care is for 12%, about the same as for the budget deficit, unemployment and education.  The number of people, however, who say our health system is poor has doubled since 1998, rising to about 30% of respondents.  In addition, most people are not at all familiar with key aspects of the reform act, with over 80% reporting they basically have no familiarity with the exchange concept, for example.

About 75% are very or extremely confident they can get needed treatments, a percent that has not changed in ten years, despite all the turmoil and negative press about costs.  Similarly about 45% are very or extremely confident they have enough choice about who provides their care, a number that also is unchanged over the past decade.  And somewhat surprisingly, while only 32% are very or extremely confident they can afford their care without a financial hardship, that number is also little changed, but the number who are not at all confident they can afford care has increased from 18% to 24%, although that is down slightly from 2010.  But notwithstanding our great reform law, the number of people who are very or extremely confident about each of those categories looking forward the next ten years drops in half.

Most people are very or extremely satisfied with their current health plan, at 60% that number is also actually slightly up from ten years ago.  Most Americans have experienced an increase in health costs over the past year, which has led to changes in how they access the system.  Seventy-four percent say they take better care of themselves in response to cost increases, 69% use more generic drugs, 59% only see a doctor for serious conditions and 64% talk to the physician more carefully about treatment options and costs.  Because of cost increases, many Americans report decreasing savings and having difficulty paying other bills.  Many agree, however, that incentives that would lower costs if people were more careful about how they used health care would motivate them to change.  Finally, if you want a peek into why it will be so hard to fix our fiscal problems, most people don’t think the Medicare eligibility age should be raised.

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