Consumers' confidence about their health care future and access to care is dropping, particularly among seniors, as debate over President Barack Obama's health overhaul agenda grows more contentious.
A monthly survey of consumer sentiment on health care issues shows that Americans' confidence in insurance coverage, affordability and access dropped 5.2 points in July, after having risen slightly in June.
Among seniors eligible for Medicare the drop was even more striking — 10.4 points — suggesting the health care debate is raising alarm bells for older Americans. The survey was conducted even before coverage of raucous town hall meetings that highlighted public opposition to Democrats' health overhaul plans.
The health care consumer confidence index is compiled by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports health care reform. It uses people's responses to a series of questions — such as whether they're worried about affording prescription drugs or going bankrupt from medical bills — to determine an overall confidence score.
The overall score for July was 97.2, down from 102.3 in June. The highest possible score is 200, the lowest zero.
"Americans continue to struggle to afford health care and I think they're still feeling pinched by the downturn of the economy, and there's also all the debate in Washington," said Lynn Blewett, director of a University of Minnesota state health data center that analyzes the data for the foundation.
The Robert Wood Johnson survey doesn't specifically measure whether people support or oppose Obama's health care agenda. Recent surveys have shown approval of Obama's handling of the issue slipping, with 45 percent of registered voters in a Marist Poll released Friday saying they disapprove of how the president is handling health care, while 43 percent approved.
But the Robert Wood Johnson survey shows some palpable concerns with the status quo — bearing out other polls, including Marist, that show the public believes there should be changes to the U.S. health system, even while they're concerned about the direction Obama and Democrats are taking.
For example, 52 percent of respondents in the Robert Wood Johnson poll said they were very or somewhat worried that they wouldn't be able to afford future care, and nearly 30 percent said they were very or somewhat worried they would go bankrupt from medical bills. Lower-income people expressed greater concerns.
There was also a certain amount of satisfaction expressed. Asked to rate the quality of health care they received, 26.1 percent said it was excellent, 34.5 percent said very good, 25.7 percent said good, 10.4 percent said fair and just 3.4 percent said poor.
The telephone poll of 500 people had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.