Gallup Survey: Cost Surpasses Access as Most Urgent U.S. Health Problem

AIDS and obesity are off the radar

More Americans now mention health care costs (27%) than mention access (20%) when asked to name the most urgent health problem facing the United States, according to a new Gallup survey. These two issues typically rank at the top of the list in Gallup’s annual polls but have tied for first place during the past two years.

The last time that cost or access did not finish first as the most urgent health problem was in 2001. That year, bioterrorism edged cost and access amid a nationwide scare involving the mailing of letters containing anthrax spores to government and news media officials, resulting in five deaths.

Further back, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was named the most urgent health problem in the 1980s and 1990s, including in 1987 when a record-high 68% of survey respondents mentioned it.

After cost and access, the survey respondents identified several other health conditions as the most urgent health problem, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness, according to Gallup’s findings. Likely because of major advances in the treatment and prevention of the condition, AIDS now barely generates any mentions, with less than 1% naming it in 2016.

In addition to the increase in the percentage mentioning cost this year, another notable change is the drop in the percentage naming obesity as the most urgent health problem, from 15% to 8%. That is the lowest percentage mentioning obesity since 8% of survey respondents also named it in 2009. The decline in concern about obesity is not because obesity rates in the real world have improved; rather, it may reflect less public and media attention paid to the issue than in prior years, Gallup notes.

Older Americans were typically more likely than younger ones to say that cost is the most urgent health problem. This year, 32% of those 50 years of age and older named cost, compared with 24% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 18% of 18- to 29-year-olds.

The survey results were based on telephone interviews conducted on November 9–13, 2016, with a random sample of 1,019 adults (18 years of age and older) in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Source: Gallup; December 7, 2016.