Health Care Pains
Growing Health Care Concerns Fuel Cautious Support for Change
By Gary Langer
Oct. 20— Americans express broad, and in some cases growing, discontent with the U.S. health care system,
based on its costs, structure and direction alike — fueling cautious support for a government-run, taxpayer-funded
universal health system modeled on Medicare.
In an extensive ABCNEWS/
poll, Americans by a 2-1 margin, 62-32 percent, prefer a universal
health insurance program over the current employer-based system. That support, however, is conditional: It falls
to fewer than four in 10 if it means a limited choice of doctors, or waiting lists for non-emergency treatments.
Support for change is based largely on unease with the current system's costs. Seventy-eight percent are
dissatisfied with the cost of the nation's health care system, including 54 percent "very" dissatisfied.
Indeed, most Americans, or 54 percent, are now dissatisfied with the overall quality of health care in the United
States — the first majority in three polls since 1993, and up 10 points since 2000.
Yet apprehension about the system is counterbalanced by broad satisfaction among insured Americans with their
own current quality of care, coverage and costs — a situation that tends to encourage a cautious approach to
change. While the system is seen to have gaps, flaws and an uncertain future, it's also seen to work for most
Among insured Americans, 82 percent rate their health coverage positively. Among insured people who've
experienced a serious or chronic illness or injury in their family in the last year, an enormous 91 percent are
satisfied with their care, and 86 percent are satisfied with their coverage.
Still, cost concerns are prompting some evasive action: Nearly one in four Americans, 23 percent, say they or
someone in their family put off medical treatment in the last year because of the cost. (Among uninsured people,
this soars to 49 percent.) And 12 percent say they or someone in their household bought prescription drugs from a
foreign country — a violation of federal law.
In addition to universal coverage, there are other areas in which the public favors change. Nearly seven in 10 say
it should be legal to buy prescription drugs from foreign countries, despite the FDA's safety qualms. Three-
quarters favor the $400 billion plan to cover prescription drugs in Medicare; most would pay higher taxes to fund it.