Maybe Democrats need to pay more attention to their constituents. They spent most of the summer avoiding them, castigating them as extremists, and calling them “un-American” for their outrage over their radical agenda to overhaul the US health-care system, but never bothered to listen to their actual concerns. The latest Gallup poll of American adults shows overwhelming satisfaction with current medical care and insurance plans, which explains why most of them would like to improve the existing system rather than put government in charge of it:
Americans are broadly satisfied with the quality of their own medical care and healthcare costs, but of the two, satisfaction with costs lags. Overall, 80% are satisfied with the quality of medical care available to them, including 39% who are very satisfied. Sixty-one percent are satisfied with the cost of their medical care, including 20% who are very satisfied.
There is a clear gulf in these perceptions between the health insurance haves and have-nots. According to a Sept. 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, the 85% of Americans with health insurance coverage are broadly satisfied with the quality of medical care they receive and with their healthcare costs. At 79%, satisfaction with costs among Medicare/Medicaid recipients is particularly high.
The 15% who are uninsured are far less satisfied with the quality of their medical care (50% are satisfied), and only 27% are satisfied with their healthcare costs. (Sixty-nine percent are dissatisfied with their costs.)
This last point bears repeating. A majority of the uninsured are satisfied with their medical care. They’re unhappy about the costs, which certainly makes sense, but they’re not unhappy with the system as it is. While about a third of the current uninsured cannot afford coverage, many of them choose to pay out of pocket for health care, which makes them more aware of costs than the average consumer — and more likely to object to it.
Of the other 85% of Americans, 87% are happy with the care they get through private insurance, and 61% of those are satisfied with the costs. To put this in perspective, the last President to win 61% of the American vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (although Nixon came close in 1972). Costs are the primary concern for 38% of the respondents. The uninsured are the primary concern for only 15%, which not coincidentally corresponds to the number of uninsured in the country. Problems relating to pre-existing conditions worry 1% of respondents most, while eight times as many worry about runaway malpractice awards most.
And this is a survey of adults, not registered or likely voters, which is more appropriate here but usually skews towards the liberal position.
Given those numbers, is it any wonder that Barack Obama and the Democrats have hit a popularity meltdown this summer? Democratic messaging for the last several months have been in direct contravention to these results. It assumed that everyone disliked their current situation (not true) and an entirely different set of priorities. Perhaps they thought they could mold public opinion through mindless repetition of talking points for months on end, but if that was the strategy, it has clearly failed.
Americans would like to see reforms that addresses costs, not a government remake of the entire system. One could approach that by attempting to create interstate competition to increase choices to the consumer, leveraging taxes and deductions to disconnect people from employer-based systems for better portability, and especially by pushing for reforms towards insurance as a catastrophic indemnity and direct transactions between providers and consumers otherwise. Those would make sense and have already proven to work in other areas of health care, increasing provider supply while controlling costs and eliminating overuse that drives costs upward.
The Democrats have offered a prescription that doesn’t address the symptoms Americans see in the current system. When even the uninsured say they get satisfactory health care, a radical overhaul is one experimental surgery that Americans will want to avoid.