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Opinion

Red or Blue: Consumer Health Care Issues Are a Winning Midterm Message

In today’s polarized democracy, so many aspects of daily life are far too politicized – and few issues more so than health care.

A new survey reveals, however, that Americans on all sides of the aisle – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are surprisingly aligned on the problems with our current health care system. Namely, we all worry more about paying for health care than we worry about other major life costs, including those associated with retirement (73 percent), higher education (73 percent), housing (66 percent) or child care (49 percent).

In a time when more people in this country have health care coverage than ever before, it is staggering that Americans continue to be acutely concerned with the unpredictability of insurance premiums, hospital care that could be denied and pharmacy bills for the medicines they need.

It’s no surprise that what people pay is the main pain point. Americans are critically concerned about premiums, deductibles and copays, even more so than they are about access to care or quality of care. However, there are concerns with quality and access, too. The survey found that while the vast majority of Americans trust that their doctor is putting their medical needs above all other considerations, there is substantial concern that insurance is affecting care.

Specifically, two-thirds of Americans think their doctor factors in their insurance type when determining treatments, and more than half say their doctor’s treatment options are limited by what their insurance will cover. African-Americans (72 percent) and Hispanic Americans (75 percent) are even more likely than white Americans (61 percent) to say their doctor factors in their insurance type when deciding how to treat them and that the doctor’s options are limited by their insurance coverage (65 percent of African Americans, 66 percent of Hispanic Americans, and 57 percent of white Americans).

Furthermore, one in six Americans report having at least one occurrence within the last two years when they needed health care but were not able to receive it. This raises important questions about what kind of access to care consumers are actually getting from their insurance.

As an organization committed to being the voice for consumers who want to improve the quality of health care in this country, Consumers for Quality Care commissioned this research to better understand the broader health care themes that impact consumers and to highlight health care issues they are experiencing in communities across the country. Unfortunately, despite the strides we’ve made in increasing access to care, this survey reveals Americans still face steep barriers when paying for and accessing quality coverage.

Regardless of political leaning, the research underscores that Americans experience common frustrations and share priorities for changing our health care system. For example, in addition to worrying about health care costs, the vast majority of Americans want increased predictability when it comes to their out-of-pocket costs for health care. To that end, driving transparency around the items that have a direct impact on access and out-of-pocket expenses is critical, including clarity around whether insurance covers hospitals and doctor visits and clear information on out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.

Transparency from all players in the health care system allows people to make better decisions concerning their care. Strong majorities of Americans say they want more transparency around what they pay out of pocket, which medicines and doctors are covered by insurance, and why coverage may be denied, and they indicate they’re willing to support Congressional candidates who will achieve these objectives.  

At CQC, we find the results of this survey both heartening and disturbing. It’s enlightening that, despite the polarizing discussions taking place today, Americans from both sides of the aisle have similar frustrations with the health care system and even share views on what’s needed to restore confidence in the system. However, consumers feel they are paying more than ever and getting less, and that is a serious problem that must be addressed with urgency.

It’s our hope that reminding leaders in state capitals, executive boardrooms, and in Washington, D.C., what consumers are experiencing will help to shine a spotlight on the need to develop patient-centered solutions to our shared challenges. It won’t be easy, but all Americans agree that it must be done, and done fast.

 

Jason Resendez is a member of the board of the Consumers for Quality Care, executive director of the LatinosAgainstAlzheimer’s Coalition and co-project lead of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Disparities Engagement Network, an initiative supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

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