Survey Finds Sharpest Decline in Public Opinion About Health Care in the US

The largest survey of its kind since the start of the Covid-19 crisis found that 38% of respondents — representing around 100 million Americans — characterized the for-profit U.S. healthcare system as either “expensive” or “broken,” an indication that the pandemic has markedly shifted public opinion.

Gallup and West Health were the two organizations behind Tuesday’s new survey. They began the polling process asking respondents to describe the U.S. health care system in their own words. Nearly 40% used the word “expensive” and 13% said the system is “broken” — the two most common descriptors offered by respondents.

“The results stand in stark contrast to findings from just two years ago,” the groups note in their detailed summaryThese are the results. “In 2019, West Health and Gallup conducted a major survey on U.S. healthcare costs and found that close to half of Americans (48%) believed the quality of care found in the U.S. was either ‘the best in the world’ (13%) or ‘among the very best’ (36%). This was two-and-a-half times the 18% who reported that the quality of care was either ‘the worst in the world’ (3%) or ‘among the worst’ (16%).”

According to the survey, nearly half of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic soured their view of the U.S. healthcare system, which is dominated by large insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations and imposes some of the highest costs in the world — while achieving some of the worst outcomes.

Tim Lash is the chief strategy officer of West Health stressed that “negative public sentiment” surrounding the healthcare system “did not form overnight or begin with Covid-19.”

“It’s been decades in the making after failed promises by elected officials to do something to help Americans suffering at the hand of high prices for healthcare prescription drugs,” Lash said. “However, public opinion plays an important role in the policy process, and if policymakers are listening, they have no choice but to act.”

While far from the sole catalyst behind Americans’ changing views, the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed nearly 800,000 people in the U.S., including one in 100 older Americans — has thrown into sharp relief the massive inefficiencies and crueltiesA healthcare system whose primary goal is to maximize profit and not provide high-quality care for all.

“I think that Covid really illustrated just how dysfunctional the system actually is,” said one survey respondent.

The fact that the majority of Americans have access to health insurance through their employers has led to what? one study characterized as the “greatest health insurance losses in American history,” with millions being dropped from their plans and forced to seek refuge in badly underfunded public programsOr the difficult-to-navigate Affordable Care Act exchanges.

In addition, hospitals have provided Covid-19 patients with massive chargesThe pandemic could discourage many people from seeking lifesaving treatments.

Gallup and West Health’s new poll, a nationally representative survey of more than 6,600 U.S. adults, found that the percentage of Americans who reported forgoing care due to cost concerns — 30% — tripled in the three months prior to September and October, when the survey was conducted.

Nearly three quarters of U.S. adults say that they can’t afford quality healthcare if needed today, a rise from 18% in Feb. One in 20 respondents — representing around 12.7 million people — told Gallup and West Health that a friend or family member died over the past year after not receiving treatment because they couldn’t afford it.

Overall, 94% of Americans believe the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is “higher than it should be,” the survey showed.

“Americans have reached their breaking point,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health. “Between March and October, the percentage of people reporting trouble paying for healthcare, skipping treatments, and not filling their prescriptions spiked to their highest levels since the pandemic began, exacerbating another public health threat borne out of cost rather than illness.”

Dan Witters, a senior researcher for Gallup, said in a statement Tuesday that “the sharp worsening in public opinion regarding the affordability of care and medicine is startling, and likely a result of myriad factors related directly and indirectly to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“From rapidly rising inflation, to deferred care pushed into 2021, to more people having to pay for Covid-19 care itself,” Witters added, “the U.S. healthcare cost crisis is now coming to a head.”

The new survey was published while congressional Democrats worked to finalize their $1.75 billion reconciliation package. It includes a patchworkHealthcare provisions include expanded ACA subsidies, and a prescription drugs plan that was badly weakened industry-friendly lawmakers. During negotiations, some other popular proposals were dropped, including a plan that would add vision and dental benefits to Medicare.

“At a time when one out of four Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs, maybe, just maybe, it’s time we take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry,” saidSenator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a senator who is pushing for an even more ambitious plan to cut poverty skyrocketing medicine costs.