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Democrats, Republicans agree politics should be taken out of health policymaking

Most respondents to a public opinion survey say evidence should have "a lot of influence" on policy, but few feel it actually does.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

It's no secret that Americans are politically divided, but a new report offers hope that Democrats and Republicans find common ground on at least one issue: the role of evidence in developing and shaping health laws.

Strong bipartisan support exists for a greater use of evidence -- defined as information based on reliable data and produced by statistical methods -- in development of health policy in the U.S. The study was published in Translational Behavioral Medicine from a researcher at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health.


In a 2018 public opinion survey, 532 Americans were asked to what extent six factors "should have" and "currently have" influence on health policy decisions made by members of Congress, including industry interests, evidence and budget costs. The data was weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population.

"Evidence" and "citizens' desires" were the factors most often identified by both Democrats and Republicans as those that should have the most influence. While members of both parties agreed on the most important factors that should shape policy, they were comparably cynical about whether their voices are being acted upon. Although 59 percent of respondents said that evidence should have "a lot of influence" on policy, only 11 percent said that evidence currently has a lot of influence on those decisions.

More than half of respondents said that desires of citizens should have a lot of influence, but only 14 percent reported that citizens actually have a lot of influence on policy. This disconnect was also found in the role of pharmaceutical companies' lobbying efforts. Just six percent said the interests of pharmaceutical companies should have a lot of influence, but 44 percent said they felt those companies currently have a lot of influence.

Although the findings show no statistically significant difference across party lines on the role of evidence and citizens' desires in health policy, Purtle notes that "evidence" is a flexible idea that can be altered to support an individual's pre-existing policy preferences. He adds that future research should look at how opinions about the influence that evidence should have on policymaking vary when evidence unequivocally supports legislation decisions that are counter to citizens' preferences.


In a way, the survey's findings are unsurprising in the wake of a Gallup poll in January showing 70 percent of Americans think the healthcare system in the U.S. either has "major problems" or is in a "state of crisis."

The remaining 30 percent said the healthcare system has only minor problems, or no problem at all. The numbers are similar from the previous year -- then, it was a 71-to-29 percent split -- and in fact the figures have been more or less steady for the past decade, predating the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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