The 2009 Health Confidence Survey: Public Opinion on Health Reform Varies; Strong Support for Insurance Market Reform and Public Plan Option, Mixed Response to Tax Cap

July 2009
EBRI Issue Brief #331
Paperback, 20 pp.
PDF, 673 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2009

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Executive Summary

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR HEALTH REFORM: Findings from the 2009 Health Confidence Survey—the 12th annual HCS—indicate that Americans have already formed strong opinions regarding various aspects of health reform, even before details have been released regarding various key factors. These issues include health insurance market reform, the availability of a public plan option, mandates on employers and individuals, subsidized coverage for the low-income population, changes to the tax treatment of job-based health benefits, and regulatory oversight of health care. These opinions may change as details surface, especially as they concern financing options. In the absence of such details, the 2009 HCS finds generally strong support for the concepts of health reform options that are currently on the table.

U.S. HEALTH SYSTEM GETS POOR MARKS, BUT SO DOES A MAJOR OVERHAUL: A majority rate the nation’s health care system as fair (30 percent) or poor (29 percent). Only a small minority rate it excellent (6 percent) or very good (10 percent). While 14 percent of Americans think the health care system needs a major overhaul, 51 percent agree with the statement “there are some good things about our health care system, but major changes are needed.”

NATIONAL HEALTH PLAN ELEMENTS RATED HIGHLY: Between 68 percent and 88 percent of Americans either strongly or somewhat support health reform ideas such as national health plans, a public plan option, guaranteed issue, expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, and employer and individual mandates.

MIXED REACTION TO HEALTH BENEFITS TAX CAP: Reaction to capping the current tax exclusion of employment-based health benefits is mixed. Nearly one-half of Americans (47 percent) would switch to a lower-cost plan if the tax exclusion were capped, 38 percent would stay on their current plan and pay the additional taxes, and 9 percent don’t know.

CONTINUED FAITH IN EMPLOYMENT-BASED BENEFITS, BUT DOUBTS ON AFFORDABILITY: Individuals with employment-based health benefits are confident that employers will continue to offer such benefits. They are much less confident that they would be able to afford coverage on their own, even if employers gave them the money they currently spend on health benefits. However, were employers to stop offering coverage, respondents report that they are likely to purchase it on their own.

RISING HEALTH COSTS HURTING FAMILY FINANCES: Those experiencing health cost increases tend to say these increases have negatively affected their household finances. In particular, they indicate that increased health care costs have resulted in a decrease in contributions to a retirement plan (32 percent) and other savings (53 percent) and in difficulty paying for basic necessities (29 percent) and other bills (37 percent).

COSTS ALSO AFFECTING HEALTH CARE USE: Many consumers report they are changing the way they use the health care system in response to rising health care costs. Roughly 80 percent of those with higher out-of-pocket expenses say these increased costs have led them to try to take better care of themselves and choose generic drugs more often. One-quarter also say they did not fill or skipped doses of their prescribed medications in response to increased costs.