Health Care Expected to Play Key Role in Presidential Elections: Elections 2008

By Late, Michele | The Nation's Health, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Health Care Expected to Play Key Role in Presidential Elections: Elections 2008


Late, Michele, The Nation's Health


When Americans turn to their TVs or computers in coming months to watch the presidential debates, one of the most important issues they want to hear the candidates discuss is health care.

Concerned by their ability to pay for health services for themselves and their families, Americans want their next president to find ways to improve health care and address costs, recent data show. And voters want to hear what the candidates have to say on the issue now, before they cast their votes for the next political administration.

In polls taken by the Kaiser Family Foundation over the past year and a half, Americans have consistently ranked health care as one of the top four issues they want presidential candidates to discuss, along with the economy, the war and gas prices. While Americans have begun to be more troubled about prices at the pumps and in their households, they've also remained concerned about increases in their share of health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

In a June poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 51 percent of respondents said that making health care and health insurance affordable is the health issue they'd most like to hear the presidential candidates talk about. More respondents said they were troubled by personal costs than increases in national health spending, reflecting the recent U.S. economic downturn and the strain on their purse strings.

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"The standard that most voters will use to gauge health reform proposals is 'Will it make health care affordable for me?'" said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

American voters believe U.S. political leaders can make a difference in reducing health care costs, the foundation poll found. A full 62 percent of respondents said that the president and Congress can do "a lot" about health care costs, which suggests that Americans have expectations for change under the next Congress and presidential administration.

One of the best ways leaders can lower individual health care costs is to promote healthier lifestyles and preventive medical care, poll respondents said. In fact, providing preventive health care to all Americans is one of the top benchmarks of successful health reform, according to a May poll conducted by the Aspen Institute and Zogby International.

The Aspen poll found that 80 percent of Americans support providing financial incentives--such as lower health insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments--for people who make healthy lifestyle choices. While recent national health data show many Americans are living longer, increasing life-spans is not enough, the Aspen poll showed. More than 90 percent of respondents said that how long they remain healthy is more important than longevity.

The results show that the American public feels prevention is "incredibly important," according to Michelle McMurry, MD, PhD, director of the Aspen Health Stewardship Project, a bipartisan initiative addressing U.S. health care reform. Almost half of the Aspen poll respondents said that they or someone they knew became ill, were injured or died because of something that could have been prevented through better health care.

"Americans get it: They see that we are not getting a good value for our health care dollars," McMurry told The Nation's Health. "They want to see change."

Overall, Americans believe health care is one of the most serious issues facing the nation, according to data from another May poll, commissioned by Research!America and ScienceDebate2008.com. The poll found that 76 percent of Americans rank health care as the most serious long-term issue, followed by alternative energy sources--which may be a reflection of both the growing awareness of climate change and climbing U.S. energy prices.

But regardless of how much it costs to fill the gas tank, health will continue to be an important issue for voters as they cast their ballots in November, predicted Mary Woolley, president of Research! …

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Health Care Expected to Play Key Role in Presidential Elections: Elections 2008
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