Consumer Confidence in Health Care Rises Sharply in October

People's concerns about losing their health insurance coverage ease; Americans say they feel more secure in their ability to obtain and afford future care.

    • November 22, 2009

Americans’ confidence in their health insurance coverage and ability to access health care increased sharply in October, amid signs of economic recovery and Congressional momentum on health reform. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Care Consumer Confidence Index (RWJF Index) rose to 104.4 points, up from 96.6 in September. The October reading reflects the most confidence American consumers have had in health care since tracking began in April 2009.

Fueling the uptick was a significant rise in Americans’ confidence in the future of their health care. The Future Health Cost Concerns Index—which measures consumer confidence about accessing health care or health insurance in the future because of costrose nearly 14 points from 91.2 in September to 105.0 in October. This is the largest increase in the Future Health Cost Concerns Index since the survey began. The Index is one of two indices that make up the RWJF Index.

The survey also found that fewer people are concerned about losing their coverage. In October, fewer than one in four Americans (23.3 percent) were concerned about losing their health insurance, a drop from the previous month, when one in three Americans (33.4 percent) expressed concern about losing health coverage. Additionally, the percentage of Americans who said they were worried that they would not be able to afford future health care needs dropped from 53.2 percent to 43.4 percent.

“During a month when there was considerable momentum around health reform including the passage of a reform bill by the Senate Finance Committee, the American public appears to be more confident about the future of their health care,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Americans of every ideology know that our health care system needs to be fixed and want some type of reform.”

The RWJF Index is created from data collected by the Surveys of Consumers, with analysis provided by the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC). The survey evaluates consumer confidence along a spectrum of economic issues including American health care.

The RWJF Index ranges from 0 to 200. Baseline was established at 100 in spring 2009. October highlights show:

  • Most people believe that health reform will improve their access to care or keep it stable.
    More than seven in 10 Americans (71.9%) believe that if health reform is enacted, their access to care will improve or stay the same.
  • Fewer people are unable to pay their health bills.
    In October, 20.6 percent of Americans reported having trouble paying their health care bills, compared to 23.1 percent in September.
  • Americans are less concerned about losing their employer sponsored coverage.
    In October, 9.4 percent of people reported being worried that they will lose their employer-sponsored insurance coverage because their employer will stop providing the benefit, down from 15.5 percent in September.
  • A large majority of Americans view health reform as key to addressing the economy.
    Nearly eight in 10 Americans (79.2%) believe it is important that President Obama includes health reform in plans to address the economy.

“America’s economy is showing signs of recovery and consumer confidence in health care appears to be catching up,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. “Despite a handful of optimistic readings, unemployment remains high and people still feel financially pinched. To alleviate their economic reticence, it’s critically important that Americans know they will have access to stable health coverage now and in the future.”

The RWJF Index is comprised of two sub-indices compiled by SHADAC, the Future Health Cost Concerns Index and the Recent Health Cost Barriers Index, which gauges consumers’ recent experiences accessing health care because of cost concerns. The Recent Health Cost Barriers Index increased from 101.9 in September to 103.6 in October.

The data for the indices are collected from questions added to the Surveys of Consumers, written to construct the RWJF Index. The survey items measure access to health care, health insurance and future concerns regarding health care. For more than 50 years, the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan has conducted the Surveys of Consumers which has been an accurate indicator for understanding and forecasting changes in the national economy. The survey’s Index of Consumer Expectations is an official component of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators.