Americans say that high costs and the lack of insurance and access to care are the most pressing health care problems for government to address, Robert Blendon and coauthors report in an article published today as a Health Affairs Web Exclusive [2-week free access]. Writing a month before the 2006 congressional election, the researchers also say that health care overall is a “second-tier issue” for the American public, ranking behind Iraq, the economy, and gasoline prices as a priority for government action.

“When it comes to health care, the press has been writing mostly about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and many researchers have been focusing on quality-of-care issues,” said Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. But the public noted different priorities in an April 2006 survey sponsored by Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

–43 percent of Americans surveyed named high costs as one of the two most important health care issues for government to address;
–34 percent flagged the lack of insurance and access.
–15 percent named Medicare and the drug benefit as a distant third most important health care issues,
–11 percent cited low-quality care.

Government Action On Health Care Not Among Americans’ Top Priorities

In recent surveys, the public has consistently ranked the overall issue of health care as the fourth priority for government action. In an August 2006 Harris Interactive survey, for example, 42 percent ranked the war and national defense among the two most important issues facing the United States. The economy and jobs was second, but far behind at 18 percent, while 16 percent named gas and oil prices as one of the two most crucial areas for government to address. Only 13 percent of respondents said that health care (excluding Medicare) was one of the two most important issues facing the country. The last time health care ranked as the number one priority for Americans was in 1992.

However, health care “ranks higher today than many other national problems often identified as being very important,” Blendon and coauthors point out. Specifically, health care still outranks education, the environment (including global warming), Social Security, poverty, and crime.

Further reading:
UPI interview with Blendon about his article.
Baltimore Sun report on Blendon’s research.