A sizeable majority of Americans are "profoundly pessimistic" about what the future might hold for the U.S. healthcare system, according to a new national survey from Harris Interactive.
In a poll of 2,306 adults from across the country, Rochester, N.Y.-based Harris finds that 62% have a negative view about the prospects of the healthcare system in the next five years, while just 25% express an optimistic outlook.
People identifying themselves as liberals are the most pessimistic, according to the poll, with a 72% negative response rate, followed by those with postgraduate education (71%); political independents (69%); lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents (68%); moderates (67%); and Democrats (66%).
Though hardly offering a rosy outlook for healthcare, Republicans and conservatives are on the other end of the scale, with 34% of each expressing optimism. Also among the least pessimistic are those age 65 and older, with a 31% positive response and 55% negative; individuals earning between $25,000 and $34,999 a year; people in the West; and the 18-to-24 age group.
Rochester, N.Y.-based Harris says that the negative sentiment may be the result of rising healthcare expenses, the shifting of insurance costs from employers to individuals and the slow pace and direction of congressional efforts to reform Medicare. Seniors are less negative, Harris says, because they would be the primary beneficiaries of any eventual prescription-drug component of Medicare.
"Yet another reason for pessimism may be that while most people think that healthcare should be a right, or an entitlement, that is not the way the (Bush) administration or the Congress see it," according to a Harris report.
Indeed, 65% of those surveyed say that public policy should treat healthcare more as an entitlement than as a product or service. Only 23% take the opposite view, that healthcare should be more like homeowners insurance in that people should get what they can afford and are willing to pay.
"Americans clearly agree with most Europeans and Canadians that healthcare could be thought of as an entitlement or public good than as a private economic good," Harris says.
However, responses vary greatly according to political affiliation. Republicans are almost evenly split on the issue--46% call healthcare an entitlement, vs. 43% who say it is a commodity--while 79% of Democrats and 71% of self-described independents view healthcare as a right, according to the poll.