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Economic Turbulence Is Raising Concerns About Health Care Costs

The downturn has heightened worries about rising health care costs, making employees more aware of how they consume health care, according to a new survey.

October 7, 2008
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The economic downturn has heightened concerns about rising health care costs, making employees more aware of how they consume health care, according to a survey published Tuesday, October 7, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Though Americans said they remain confident they will be able to get the treatment they need, general economic woes have heightened people’s concerns about health care cost increases, said Paul Fronstin, director of health research and education at EBRI in Washington.

The increase in health care costs for American consumers is, in a sense, good news for employers. The survey, which was conducted by the nonprofit EBRI and market research company Matthew Greenwald & Associates, says insured Americans who have seen their health care costs rise are more likely than those whose costs have remained steady to choose generic drugs over branded drugs, talk to their doctor about the cost of treatment options and go to a doctor only for more serious conditions.

Though such attitudes may result in short-term cost decreases, the survey reports that rising health care costs in particular could have long-term consequences. Twenty-nine percent of Americans said rising health care costs have hurt their ability to save for retirement. Fifty-four percent said rising health care costs have hampered their efforts to save money.

While health care issues have taken a back seat to economic concerns in the general election, according to recent polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans still believe that the health care system needs to be changed. In the EBRI survey, 51 percent agreed with the statement that there are some good things about our health care system but that major changes are needed. Ninety percent said health care should be more affordable.

Respondents generally supported health care reform measures that have been proposed by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. Eighty-seven percent said they support tax incentives to help people pay for health coverage they purchase on their own.

Republican candidate McCain has proposed giving tax credits to people who buy health insurance on their own and taxing the value of health insurance provided by employers to their employees.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents showed support for allowing the uninsured to buy into Medicare or Medicaid. Eighty-three percent said the uninsured should be allowed to buy health insurance coverage offered to government employees, a position advanced by Democratic candidate Obama.

—Jeremy Smerd

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