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In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden vowed that "help is on the way" to a nation grappling with a pandemic that has already claimed over 430,000 lives in the United States.
Yet despite the promise of a better future, a new survey from West Health and Gallup finds Americans remain largely skeptical that issues as varied as managing the COVID-19 crisis, lowering healthcare costs, improving the economy, fixing immigration and addressing climate change will improve anytime soon.
The findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 3,100 adults interviewed between Dec. 15, 2020, and Jan. 3, after the presidential election but before Biden took office and announced more detailed plans for his first 100 days.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT?
The survey found only 27% of Americans think the management of the pandemic is heading in the right direction – though it tops all other areas including the economy (23%), immigration reform (18%), climate change (15%) and the cost of healthcare, which only 8% of people think is going the right way.
Notably, Americans are three times more likely to believe the COVID-19 pandemic is headed in the right direction than the cost of healthcare (27% versus 8%), placing greater confidence in putting an end to a more than yearlong pandemic than reversing decades of high healthcare prices.
When it comes to healthcare, the top three issues Americans want the government to focus on in President Biden's first 100 days are lowering insurance premiums (70%), cutting drug prices (66%) and reducing the uninsured rate (63%). These are followed by expanding care for older adults (58%) and childcare for working parents (55%). Across the board, Democrats were far more likely to place a higher priority on these issues than Republicans, particularly when it comes to lowering premiums (90% vs. 60%).
Optimism for success, however, does not run high. Only 28% report that they think the Biden Administration and new Congress will be able to enact policies that will bring down the cost of healthcare, compared to 49% who are pessimistic and 22% who have no opinion one way or the other. Similar margins were found for policies related to lowering the costs of prescription drugs. This may explain why 80% of respondents felt healthcare costs will only continue to rise over the next two years.
The task of lowering healthcare and prescription drug prices is as daunting as the situation is dire for many Americans. More than 500 drugs have already seen a median price hike of 4.8% this month alone. Meanwhile, according to the survey, more than one-quarter of adults report that in the last year there was at least one time when someone in their household did not pursue care due to its cost, and some 15 million Americans (6%) know someone who died in the last five years because they couldn't afford treatment. Another 40% say they are just one negative health event away from filing for bankruptcy.
THE LARGER TREND
Making care more accessible and affordable is one of the Biden Administration's stated goals as he looks to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, the signature piece of health legislation passed by former President Barack Obama.
In an effort to improve access to health insurance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is opening up a special enrollment period for uninsured consumers to secure ACA coverage, or change their coverage if they already have an ACA plan.
The usual open enrollment period ended on December 15, 2020. The special enrollment period will be open from February 15 through May 15. Insurers using the HealthCare.gov platform must make a special enrollment period available to all marketplace-eligible consumers who are submitting a new application or updating an existing application. This applies to the 36 states served by marketplaces that use the HealthCare.gov platform.
Biden has also signaled his intent to address drug prices. The plan is to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Biden has support from congressional Democrats to pass such legislation, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the move could cost the healthcare industry upwards of $300 billion by 2029.
That would likely be ameliorated somewhat by the creation of a government-run health insurance option, which could lead to more Americans being able to afford more drugs, thus boosting demand for the pharmaceutical industry's products.