Lawmakers, consumers disagree on health needs

Consumers plan to take frustration to the polls

When Americans head to the voting booths in November to elect the next president of the United States, health care policy will play an important role in their decision, according to a recent poll by Bethesda, MD-based Discovery Health Channel.

In fact, 54% of Americans polled said health care issues would play an "extremely important" role in their vote in the November election. Unfortunately, the same survey found that less than 25% of Washington policy-makers believe health care will play an important role in the coming election. The Discovery Health Channel poll, titled "Americans and Washington Insiders on Health Issues: Does Health Information and Policy Require First Aid?" surveyed the general public and Washington policy-makers to better understand the growing importance of health information to consumers.

The Discovery Channel commissioned the bipartisan research firm SWR Worldwide in Washington, DC, to conduct a telephone poll of 1,000 Americans ages 18 or older. SWR also conducted an on-line survey of 179 Washington insiders, including current and former congressional staff, former federal agency staff, lawyers, lobbyists, association executives, and members of the media.

By the numbers

Findings include the following:

  • More than 65% of Democrats, 41% of Republicans, and 53% of independents surveyed said health care will be "extremely important" in determining their presidential vote.
  • Fifty percent of consumers surveyed — compared with only 23% of political insiders — reported that government should be "very involved" in rating physicians and other medical professionals.
  • Less than 25% of Washington insiders reported that the government should be involved in providing information on alternative health care, compared with 48% of consumers surveyed.
  • More than 66% of consumers surveyed reported that the government should be "very involved" in releasing to the public information on new medicines, compared with 51% of Washington insiders.
  • Of women surveyed, 61% rated health care as "extremely important" to determining their vote, compared with 47% of men.
  • Nearly 90% of consumers surveyed reported being skeptical about health information from private companies, and 84% reported being skeptical about information from the media.
  • Nearly 80% of consumers surveyed said they had difficulty sorting through what they believe to be conflicting health information.
  • Nearly 60% of the consumers surveyed reported difficulty understanding health information they consider too technical.

Out of sync

In every area surveyed, Washington insiders underestimated the importance to consumers of access to health information. For example, 71% of consumers surveyed reported that prescription drug information was "very important" to them, while only 59% of Washington insiders reported that drug information was "very important" to consumers.

Other findings include these:

  • Nearly 60% of consumers surveyed reported that mental health information was important to them, compared with roughly 30% of Washington insiders.
  • More than 65% of consumers surveyed reported that women’s health issues were important to them, compared with 40% of Washington insiders.

"From traditional surgical procedures and illnesses to mental health and alternative medicine, we found that . . . the political insiders underestimated the amount of information the public wants and the public’s desire for the government or some trusted third party to provide this information in a timely manner," says Greg Schneider, chairman and chief executive officer of SWR.

(Editor’s note: Highlights from the poll and an on-line poll with select survey questions are available on the Web at www.discoveryhealth.com.)