Consumer Confidence in Health Care Largely Consistent Over 2009

November tracking shows continued concern over the future of health care coverage and affordability of care.

    • December 21, 2009

In a year when debate over the nation’s health care system and need for reform sparked a political rollercoaster, Americans’ confidence in health care remained mostly consistent throughout 2009, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Care Consumer Confidence Index (RWJF Index). After a sharp rise in confidence in October, the RWJF Index fell in November from 104.4 to 96.9 points—returning to a confidence level closer to those seen throughout most of 2009. Since the RWJF Index began in April 2009, confidence has averaged 99.2 points.

Over 2009, an average of one in four Americans each month (26.5%) worried that they would lose health care coverage and nearly half (48.3%) worried that they would not be able to afford future health care needs if they or a family member became seriously ill.

“As the debate over health reform has ebbed and flowed, polls show spikes and dips in Americans’ overall confidence in their health care,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Despite monthly fluctuation, over time people’s concern regarding their ability to access and pay for care has remained consistent. That suggests that Americans’ confidence in the future of their care is more affected by personal concerns than political rhetoric. People are struggling and the health care system they experience is broken and not meeting their needs. That’s obviously a worry for many Americans.”

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.

Additionally, the compiled 2009 research finds that on average:

  • An overwhelming majority of Americans viewed health reform as key to reviving the economy.
    More than four in five Americans (81.7%) believed it was important that President Obama include health reform in plans to address the economy.
  • People were anxious that they would not be able to pay for routine care.
    More than two in five people (44.4%) reported being concerned about being able to afford routine care in the future.
  • People worried about not being able to afford future prescriptions. More than four in 10 Americans (41.1%) worried about being able to afford needed prescriptions in the future.
  • Many Americans feared that medical bills would lead to bankruptcy. More than a quarter of Americans (26.7%) were concerned that they would go bankrupt from medical bills.

“Americans still see a clear connection between economic recovery and fixing health care," said Lavizzo-Mourey. “We have consistently seen that people rate health reform as an important part of any plan to address the economy. As the nation continues to struggle to create new jobs and the debate over health reform drags on, people’s fears over how they will access and pay for care persist and are likely to get worse.”

The RWJF Index ranges from 0 to 200 and is comprised of two sub-indices compiled by SHADAC. The Future Health Cost Concerns Index – which measures consumer confidence about accessing health care or health insurance in the future because of cost – has averaged 96.6 points so far this year. The Recent Health Cost Barriers Index gauges consumers’ recent experiences accessing health care because of cost concerns and averaged 101.1 points.

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.

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