Skyrocketing healthcare costs and insurance rates, suspect quality of care, inaccessibility, malpractice suits … The list of healthcare troubles facing Americans is lengthy, and the issues continue to be the focus of political debates, public policy, media attention, and individual concern. Given the current anxiety, do people feel secure that their healthcare needs will be met based on the resources they believe will be available in the future?
In a recent Gallup Poll Panel healthcare survey*, slightly more than half of respondents indicated they are confident their healthcare needs will be met. Fifty-two percent of respondents chose a "4" or "5" on a 5-point scale, where 1 means "not at all confident" and 5 means "very confident." Fifteen percent gave a "5" rating.
Respondents in all age groups surveyed express confidence, but older respondents are particularly positive. Twenty-six percent of those aged 65 and older gave a rating of "5," compared with only 12% of those younger than 65.
Good News …or Is It?
While signs are positive overall, policy-makers should read them with a hint of caution: Many respondents may be seeing the future through rose-colored glasses. Many may not be fully aware that the escalating demands on future healthcare resources -- because of the surge of aging baby boomers, projected workforce shortages, the potential crisis for Medicare funding, and the rising uninsured population -- will exceed the available supply. Others may simply be hoping that the problem will solve itself, trusting in reforms that seem woefully inadequate in the face of coming challenges.
If there is a gap between expectations of the healthcare system and the system's capacity to meet those expectations, it will exacerbate the problems mentioned. Everyone bears some measure of responsibility for working to prevent problems if the system begins to fall short of expectations. Americans must accept greater responsibility for educating themselves about healthcare providers, costs, treatments, and cures, and for taking greater ownership of their health through healthier lifestyles. Baby boomers in particular must establish supplemental funding now for the "elective" healthcare requests they will need in the future.
Healthcare leaders, for their part, need to educate their communities on preventative measures that can help avoid unnecessary healthcare consumption in the future and promote healthier lives. National policy-makers must more aggressively establish payment structures that reward healthcare providers for promoting health and avoiding unnecessary costs. When those goals are being fully addressed, the trust that people will be properly cared for will seem far more warranted.
*These results are based on telephone surveys with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 18 and older, conducted in September 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.