Hospital executives were encouraged by the results of a poll of potential voters released last week that indicated healthcare is voters top priority.
The opinions could have implications for next years presidential elections, as a majority of respondents said that hospitals deserve more federal money.
The American people are recognizing the importance of healthcare even with our country at war, and the declining value of the dollar, said Gerald Hill, senior vice president of advocacy at the Seton Family of Hospitals, Austin, Texas.
The survey, conducted by national polling firms Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research on behalf of the American Hospital Association, found that healthcare outranks Iraq and terrorism as a top issue for voters in the 2008 presidential elections. Forty percent of the respondents said they wanted presidential candidates to address healthcare, followed by Iraq (32%), illegal immigration (13%), the economy (13%) and terrorism/security issues (10%). Voters were polled in the early primary states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Voters of all stripes want presidential candidates to address this key issue, said Richard Pollack, the AHAs executive vice president.
When asked what should happen to federal funding for hospitals, 55% of voters said they would support an increase in funds. The voter call for more funding came, though, after community hospitals recorded a record profit of $35.2 billion on a margin of 6% in 2006 (Oct. 29, p. 6).
Nevertheless, federal support would be welcome in a state like New Jersey, where hospitals are in severe financial distress, said Elizabeth Ryan, chief operating officer of the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Five hospitals have declared bankruptcy over the past 18 months, she said. Currently, 50% hospitals (are) operating in the red, Ryan said. This is mostly because of inadequate Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Also, New Jersey hospitals have a legal mandate to provide care to all regardless of ability to pay. We provide about $1.3 billion in uncompensated care each year, she said. Although the state Legislature provides some funds to cushion that blow, Its just not enough.
Reading the AHA poll results is very heartening, Ryan said. I hope the new president and Congress take it to heart, and that healthcare is a top-tier issue.
Nearly nine out of 10 voters polled in the AHA survey favored a set of changes to the health system that would address health costs and coverage. Voters also supported specific changes such as using more information technology to increase patient safety, lower costs and reduce paperwork, so providers could spend more time with patients.
The poll interviewed 600 likely 2008 general election voters plus 400 likely Republican primary voters/caucus goers and 400 likely Democratic primary voters/caucus goers, for the survey, which was conducted Oct. 21-27.