Consumer Confidence in Health Care Rises in December

Confidence in maintaining coverage and the ability to afford future care holds steady. Americans express growing concern over the potential impact of health reforms on their finances and access to care.

    • January 25, 2010

Americans’ confidence in their health insurance coverage and ability to access health care increased slightly last month. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Care Consumer Confidence Index (RWJF Index) rose to 99.1 points in December, up from a reading of 96.9 in November.

Fueling the rise in overall confidence were small upticks in both of the sub indices that make up the RWJF Index. The Recent Health Cost Barriers Index gauges consumers’ recent experiences accessing health care based on their cost concerns; it increased from 100.3 in November to 101.7 in December. The Future Health Cost Concerns Index measures consumers’ worries about accessing health care or health insurance in the future because of cost; it also increased from 93.5 in November to 96.5 to December.

The survey found that Americans’ confidence in keeping their health coverage and their ability to afford future care remained relatively stable in December. Last month, 31.4 percent of survey respondents reported being concerned about losing their health coverage, compared to 30.6 percent in November. When asked about their ability to afford routine care, 42.3 percent reported being concerned compared to 45.3 percent in November.

“The future of our nation’s health care system has been under an intense microscope as Congress negotiates health care reform,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Monthly tracking has shown us that the daily debate over health reform has had little impact on people’s overall confidence levels. Regardless of what happens in Washington, it will remain important to know how average people view their health care situation as national indicator on how our health care system is working for the American people.

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.

In September of 2009, supplementary questions were added to the survey to track Americans’ interest in the health care debate and their feelings on what health care reform could mean for them as individuals as well as the county as a whole. The tracking questions do not factor into the overall RWJF Index score.

The tracking questions in December revealed growing anxiety among survey respondents about the potential impact of health reform on their finances and access to care. In December, 30.5 percent of people reported believing that their personal finances would be worse if heath reform passed, compare to 24.5 percent in November. In addition, the number of American reporting that they believe their access to care under a reformed health care system would be worse increased to 33.1 percent from 24.8 percent.

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.