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Republican satisfaction with U.S. healthcare costs is on the upswing, finds Gallup

For Democrats and independents, the trend is more or less flat, with cost satisfaction clocking in at 9% and 25%, respectively.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

With industry and public concerns about rising healthcare costs becoming a more pervasive issue, Republicans have a more optimistic view than most about the cost picture. In fact, according to a new Gallup poll, Republican satisfaction with healthcare costs has risen to 43%, 17 percentage points higher than the 26% recorded in 2018.

For Democrats and independents, the trend is more or less flat, with cost satisfaction clocking in at 9% and 25%, respectively, showing little change from last year.

The results were culled from Gallup's annual Health and Healthcare Poll, conducted Nov. 1-14.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Healthcare has been a hot topic amongst Democratic presidential contenders as they square off in the primary leading up to next year's general election. Most of the top candidates in the race support a publicly sponsored health plan at minimum, with candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren going so far as to suggest a Medicare-For-All, or single-payer system.

Republicans, meanwhile, have tried in fits and starts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with their efforts as yet unsuccessful. One of the goals of the ACA was to control healthcare costs, and after it was signed into law in 2010, 31% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats were satisfied with the costs of healthcare, according to Gallup's figures.

Flash forward six years to the end of President Obama's second term, and 28% of Democrats showed satisfaction with costs, compared to an all-time low of 11% for Republicans.

Since Donald Trump took office, however, partisan satisfaction flipped once more. Republican satisfaction has slowly risen while Democratic satisfaction has trended in the opposite direction, and now, the numbers show the largest partisan gap to date.

The satisfaction levels among American voters has risen as well, though not as sharply. This year, 26% of Americans said they're satisfied with costs, the highest level since 2009. It's up from 20% in 2018. Still, no more than 28% of Americans have been satisfied with healthcare costs since 2001.

THE LARGER TREND

It has long been known that the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, but a 2018 report from The Wall Street Journal highlights the extent to which this is true, showing healthcare spending will soon reach 20% of national GDP -- by far the highest among major economies.

Price increases have been the main culprit. Over the past 58 years or so, medical costs have risen about 2,000%, and the consumer price index has jumped about 700%. And since the turn of the century, the cost of prescription drugs has leapt 69%, physician and clinical services have gone up 23%, and hospital care has risen 60%.

Thanks to insurance and tax breaks, consumers tend to be protected from the bulk of these costs. Corporations are somewhat shielded as well. In 2017, they were able to deduct an estimated $854 billion from their taxes due to the health insurance they provide.

Frustratingly, much of what is spent on healthcare is waste. About one-quarter of total healthcare spending in the U.S. is waste, with a price tag ranging from $760 billion to $935 billion, according to an October analysis released in JAMA. The authors reported the total estimated annual cost of waste was $265.6 billion for administrative complexity alone, including billing and coding waste, and physician time spent reporting on quality measures.

Costs have drawn the attention of employers as well. Curbing the cost of healthcare and increasing its affordability remain the top priorities for 93% of employers over the next three years, according to the 24th annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey by Willis Towers Watson, though nearly two in three employers see healthcare affordability as the most difficult challenge to tackle over that same period.

Employers expect healthcare cost increases of 4.9% in 2020 compared with 4% in 2019. Despite this cost increase, 95% of employers are very confident their organization will continue to sponsor healthcare benefits to active employees in five years. Moreover, employers' longer-term commitment to sponsoring these benefits 10 years from now hit 74%, the highest level in the past decade.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com