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Poll Results Should Alarm Top-Paid Providers

October 25, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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If a new Massachusetts poll reflects attitudes across the rest of the United States, then slashing payments to health-care providers may have a lot of public support.

According to the poll responses, the public thinks the high cost of health care is either a major problem (53 percent) or a crisis (25 percent). And it largely blames drug companies (77 percent), insurance companies (72 percent), and hospitals (63 percent) who are “charging too much money.”

In other words, health care costs too much because the people providing it charge too much. Physicians, especially those in high-paying specialties, may not find much public sympathy if Medicare and Medicaid reduce payments.

The poll, taken in September, surveyed 1,002 Massachusetts adults. It was the first comprehensive look at public opinion about health care costs in the state since the 2006 law that required nearly every Massachusetts resident to carry health insurance.

Martha Bebinger of WBUR public radio in Boston interviewed pollster Robert Blendon for WBUR, NPR, and Kaiser Health News.

The good news, sort of, is that the poll revealed relatively little concern about overuse of expensive technology, such as imaging machines. It did find that 66 percent of the respondents blamed waste and fraud in the health care system. And, perhaps surprisingly, 63 percent acknowledged that “some people don’t take good care of their health, so they need more medical treatment.”

Said Blendon:

The big takeaway here is that 74 percent of respondents want the state to take action. … There is ambivalence about whether state or federal government can solve problems, but the public wants government leaders to try.

That certainly opens a lot of possibilities, not all of them very palatable.

The poll did identify a potential education opportunity. The public, at least in Massachusetts, seems simply to feel that health care is too expensive without understanding why. As Blendon explained:

At the moment, people think they are just being charged too much, and the reasons don’t make a lot of sense to them.

Whoever can convincingly explain why prices are so high and what can be done to reduce them should be able to win the debate. Admittedly, that’s a tall order.

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