Drug Prices Top Voters’ Health Priorities for 2017

Tweaks to the Affordable Care Act take a back seat

The monthly October tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that when voters were asked about what the next president and Congress should do about health care, issues related to prescription drug prices and out-of-pocket spending far outranked proposals to address the shortcomings of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

For example, majorities of Democratic, Republican, and independent voters all supported making sure high-cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable for patients who need them. Majorities of those groups also wanted to ensure that health plans have enough doctors and hospitals in their networks to serve patients.

By contrast, fewer than one-third of all voters favored proposals to repeal requirements in the PPACA for employers to provide health insurance to their workers or pay a fine; to reduce the tax subsidies that help people pay their insurance premiums; and to eliminate a tax on high-cost health plans.

Republicans (but not Democrats or independents) still overwhelmingly wanted to repeal the PPACA, with 60% supporting that action. But Republicans were divided on why they don’t like the act. Asked what their main reason was for their disapproval, nearly a third (31%) said the law “gives government too big a role in the health care system,” while 27% said “the law is just one of many indications that President Obama took the country in the wrong direction.”

This month’s poll also asked voters about adding a government-sponsored “public option” to the health plans that are available to those purchasing insurance in the online marketplaces. Both President Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have called for reconsideration of the idea, which narrowly failed to be included in the original health act in 2010.

As with the PPACA itself, semantics matter in the debate over whether to include a government plan to compete with private plans. Even in describing the same concept, a much larger majority (70%) favored the idea of “creating a public health insurance option to compete with private health insurance plans” than favored “creating a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private health insurance plans” (53%).

Opinions about a public option were also relatively easily swayed when voters were presented with arguments for and against the idea. For example, 21% of supporters shifted to opposition when they were told that doctors and hospitals might be paid less under a public option, whereas 13% shifted from opposition to support when told that having a public plan compete with private plans might help drive down costs.

The survey was conducted on October 12–18 among 1,205 U.S. adults, using both land lines and cell phones.

Sources: Kaiser Health News; October 27, 2016; and Kaiser Health Tracking Poll; October 27, 2016.