Health Concerns Diminish After Sept. 11, Poll Finds
Anxiety about terrorism has "overwhelmed" concern about health topics since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, placing Americans' concern about issues such as Medicare reform and prescription drug prices on the back burner, according to a study released today on the Health Affairs Web site (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 11/13). Using four surveys, Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues, examined Americans' views about their overall priorities as well as about the relative importance of health problems in their lives both prior to and after the attacks. In August, 14% of respondents ranked health care as one of the two "most important issues" for the government to address, trailing only education and economy/jobs. In October, only 3% said health care was one of their two main concerns, while terrorism topped the list at 65%, followed by war/defense at 46%. The attacks also have led Americans to become "more concerned about a range of serious diseases," as more people this month than in May said that cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS were "one of the two or three most important health problems." Also, the November survey found that 11% of respondents said that "health problems resulting from terrorist attacks" were among their main concerns, a category that did not exist in May. Finally, the November survey found an "overall sharp decline in the importance of health issues" among Americans. While 35% of respondents said in May that costs were among the most important health care problems, only 12% said so in November -- about the same percentage that cited "health care problems resulting from terrorist attacks." Concern about insurance coverage fell from 23% to 8%, while concern about prescription drug costs declined from 15% to 6%.
"The terrorist attacks are the kind of historical events that lead to major shifts in public opinion," and they "have led to major changes in Americans' health and health care priorities," the authors of the study write. They add that medical research and improving the public health system will likely supersede concerns about health care issues that were "being debated in Congress before Sept. 11," including Medicare reform, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, patients' rights legislation and reducing the number of uninsured (Blendon et al., "Americans' Health Priorities Revisited After September 11," 11/13). The Hartford Courant, however, reports that public opinion could shift toward "traditional concerns" once premium increases begin to take effect early next year. Rich Ostuw, a health care analyst at the benefits consulting firm Towers Perrin, said, "Few companies will find these cost increases to be acceptable" (Hartford Courant, 11/13). The study is available online at http://healthaffairs.org/Blendon_Web_Excl_111301.htm.