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Poll Shows Desire for Feds to Lower Health Care Costs

December 8, 2006
Frustration with the nation’s health care system has caused a majority of Americans to support a more assertive government role in lowering costs, according to a poll released Friday, December 8, by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Americans want Congress and 2008 presidential candidates to make health care a priority, the poll states. The survey of 1,867 adults was conducted November 9-19.

Among the most striking findings are that 85 percent want the federal government to do more to expand insurance coverage and 64 percent believe that the president and Congress can “do a lot” to address costs.

“There is more interest in an activist government in slowing health care costs than there has been in a decade,” says Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at Harvard. People “are looking for a government counterbalance to what they see as strong private-sector forces for increasing prices.”

Iraq and the economy. Among independents, health care tied for second (16 percent), behind Iraq (41 percent), as the issue they want the president and Congress to address next year.

It was third (18 percent) for Democrats, with Iraq coming in at 57 percent and the economy at 20 percent. For Republicans, it was fifth (9 percent), ranking behind Iraq (44 percent), immigration, terrorism and the economy.

During the next year, Democrats want Congress and the president to work on expanding coverage for the uninsured (45 percent), while Republicans (38 percent) and independents (30 percent) focus on reducing costs.

Strong majorities favor allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare prescriptions and back the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

Poll respondents also strongly support (48 percent) extending insurance coverage to children first if it cannot be provided to everyone who is uninsured. But 57 percent want to see health care proposals from 2008 presidential candidates that focus on expanding coverage, even if it requires a substantial increase in federal spending.

The results don’t necessarily mean Americans favor government-run health care, according to Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In fact, Democrats (39 percent), Republicans (29 percent) and independents (37 percent) turn to employers as the best means for covering more uninsured Americans. They support requiring companies to offer insurance to all full-time workers.

Employers already are the source of coverage for the majority of those who are insured—and people appreciate their efforts.

“There’s quite a bit of empathy toward employers for covering health care,” says Mollyann Brodie, Kaiser vice president and director of public opinion and media research. “They’re still very thankful that employers are helping them.”

Employees see companies as an equalizer in the health care market. “People like the idea of someone bigger running interference for them,” Altman says.

For a while, at least, companies may be the only source of help. Congress may be cautious on health care policy over the next several months, given that many of the newly elected Democrats came to Washington after campaigns that revolved around Iraq and congressional corruption.

Members of Congress “are going to have to try some proposals out and see how they play,” Blendon says.

--Mark Schoeff Jr.