U.S. Consumers Cite Health Care Costs as Top Health Care Priority for President Bush, Congress
While the public favors reducing awards in medical malpractice suits and allowing U.S. residents to purchase medications from Canada, they rank those issues relatively low out of a list of 12 health care priorities for President Bush and Congress, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health shows, AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Abrams, AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
Reducing malpractice awards ranked 11th out of a list of 12 health care issues as a priority for Bush and Congress, according to the survey, conducted Nov. 4 through Nov. 28 with a sample of 1,396 adults. Reimportation was the eighth top health priority, the survey shows. Lowering the costs of health care and health insurance was the top health priority, followed by making Medicare more fiscally sound and expanding the number of people with health insurance (Congress Daily, 1/11).
Out of a list of general issues, health care issues tied with terrorism/national security as the third most important priority for Bush and Congress behind the war in Iraq and economic issues, the survey says (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
On the issue of medical malpractice, 32% of people say the most important factor in the rising cost of malpractice insurance is too many lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits, the survey says (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11). Fifteen percent of the public cited high profits of malpractice insurers, 14% said patients make too many unwarranted claims against doctors and 11% said doctors make too many mistakes (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Nine percent of the public cited "too many juries making excessive awards," even though most of the policy debate in Congress and state legislatures has focused on capping awards, according to the survey (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11). Seventy-two percent of the public said they would favor legislation requiring that medical malpractice suits be reviewed by independent medical specialists to ensure the claims were reasonable, the survey says.
Sixty-three percent of the public said they favor caps on pain-and-suffering damages, with 30% favoring a cap of $1 million or higher (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11). In addition, 23% favored a $500,000 cap; 16% favored a $250,000 cap, which the Bush administration and many Republicans support; and 15% favored a cap of less than $250,000.
According to the survey, 32% of the public believes limiting awards would help "a lot" in reducing health costs and 37% said it would help "some," compared with 25% who said it would not help much or at all. Further, 32% said that a law requiring independent review of lawsuits would reduce costs a lot, compared with 43% who said it would help some (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11).
In addition, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to prioritize the reduction of jury awards in malpractice lawsuits, with 37% of Republicans saying it is a priority, compared with 17% of Democrats, the survey shows (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
The number one health priority, reducing the costs of health care and insurance, had bipartisan appeal, with 61% of the public from both parties saying it is a top health priority.
Twenty-nine percent of the public blamed rising health care costs on high profits made by drug and insurance companies, 22% cited malpractice suits and 15% said the amount of greed and waste in the health system are behind the high costs.
The survey also notes that 73% of the public said they favored allowing drug reimportation from Canada if it meant they could buy more affordable medications, and 69% said reimportation would improve affordability without sacrificing drug safety or quality (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11). Seventy percent of the public believes that allowing reimportation would not lead to a drop in drug manufacturers' research and development, and 57% said the practice would not expose more people to harmful medications.
The public also supports allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to lower medication prices for people in Medicare, with 80% saying they support such an idea. Further, a majority of the public believes that allowing reimportation and federal negotiations to produce discounts would lower prescription drug costs, the survey indicates (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Although 57% of the public cites the uninsured as a top health priority for Bush and Congress, individuals do not seem to agree on a single approach. When asked to choose an option for increasing the number of insured, 23% cited offering businesses tax deductions or other financial assistance to employers, 17% said offering tax deductions or other assistance to individuals and 17% said expanding state public health insurance programs, such as Medicaid (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11).
Fifty-one percent of the public said they would not be willing to pay more in taxes or health insurance premiums to expand coverage, compared with 45% who said they would pay more, the survey says (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11). More Democrats (59%) than Republicans (36%) said they would be willing to pay more to expand coverage, according to the survey (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11).
The survey also noted the following:
- More than half of the public were not familiar with health savings accounts, while 30% said they had heard the term and knew what it meant (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
- Eighty-one percent of people ages 65 and older said the new Medicare law is too difficult to understand, and 78% said the legislation does not go far enough to reduce medication prices (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
- Seventy-five percent of the public said people would be better off if they received health coverage through an employer, compared with 17% who said they would be better off purchasing their own coverage (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11).
"The public isn't pushing hard for malpractice reform, but it will be happy to have it if the lawyers, doctors, administration and Congress can agree to a plan," Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
"People are really worried about their drug costs, and they want their government to do something about it," Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Business, said (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/11).
Mollyann Brodie, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of public opinion and media research, said, "We as a public aren't necessarily willing to give up a lot -- or to sacrifice a lot -- in order to get health care costs to come down" (HealthDayNews/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/11).
The survey is available online.