Patients' Perspectives on Health Care in the United States

Doctors checking vitals on a patient in the geriatric ward.

More adults rate the health care they personally receive as excellent compared to lower marks for the health system in their state or the nation. Costs are viewed as reasonable, although rising and becoming more of a problem.

The Issue

In the two years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, much has changed in U.S. health care. More Americans get help with their health insurance premiums and all are covered for pre-existing conditions. Researchers working with National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wanted to find out how people perceived their health care quality, cost, and access.

Key Findings

  • Overall: More adults give the health care they personally receive better marks (33% excellent; 46% good) compared to the health care system in their state (17% excellent; 38% good).

  • Site of care: Overnight hospital stays received the rightest ratings (46% excellent) while urgent care center visits were rated the lowest (29% excellent).

  • Costs: Most adults characterize their costs as reasonable, varying from emergency department visits (58% reasonable) to mini-clinic use (92% reasonable). Costs are a serious problem for 42 percent of adults who spend all or most of their savings on large medical bills. Some 20 percent do not believe they get good value for their health care and the same percentage say paying for prescription drugs is a struggle.

  • Barriers: Some 22 percent could not see their regular doctor and 15 percent said they were not able to get the care they needed at some point in the past two years.

  • Health reform: Similar percentages of people believe the ACA helped people in their state (35%) as believe it hurt residents (27%); but most (56%) say they do not believe it affected them.

About the Study

Researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with RWJF and NPR developed this poll as part of an ongoing series of surveys. The survey was conducted in seven geographically diverse states, as well as nationally. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using random-digit dialing during the fall of 2015.