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Little Support for GOP Plan to Privatize Medicare: Poll

Respondents to Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey suggest lowering fees paid to drug companies, hospitals and doctors

NORWALK, Conn., USA (June 13, 2011) – A new poll finds little support for privatizing Medicare, even though most people agree the government-sponsored health insurance program for older Americans needs major changes if it is to survive.

Recently Medicare's trustees indicated that funding to run the Medicare program, which offers health insurance to an estimated 45 million Americans 65 and older, could run dry by 2024 unless substantial cost-costing steps are taken. 

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled a plan earlier this year to reform Medicare by setting up "vouchers” -- subsidized by the federal government -- that would enable senior citizens to purchase health insurance from private companies -- hence "privatizing" the insurance.  The proposal has been criticized in many quarters.

According to today’s Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, slight more than one and ten of the respondents supported the plan to privatize Medicare. Overwhelmingly, the respondents felt the program should be shored up, in part, by lowering the fees paid to drug companies, hospitals and doctors—and not by raising costs to consumers.

"While most people accept the argument that Medicare reform is necessary to keep it affordable, only a few people think that these changes should include privatizing Medicare, higher taxes or increases in out-of-pocket spending," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. "Cutting the prices and fees paid to drug companies, hospitals and doctors are much more acceptable."

Added Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit consumer service group that works for affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities: "The poll basically tracks what we hear on our phone lines: people with Medicare mistrust radical changes and they generally want the program to continue as it currently does with the government guaranteeing a set of benefits. They can't understand why the solution would be to make them pay more... [And] a lot of folks do understand that the main problem is not Medicare. It is high health-care costs."

Today’s poll also found that opinions differed on specific solutions to revamp the ailing program. Specifically:

- Two-thirds of those polled said cut prescription drug prices while 59 percent said wealthy seniors should shoulder more of the cost burden.

- Forty-four percent said hospitals should get lower reimbursement fees from Medicare (28 percent were against this idea), and 40 percent said doctors should receive lower reimbursements (33 percent opposed this recommendation).

- A smaller plurality said people should be charged more for treatments that aren't cost effective (37 percent for and 26 percent against).

- But higher co-payments and deductibles were a non-starter among most of those polled, with 59 percent opposing increases in co-payments and deductibles (versus 18 percent in favor) and 50 percent opposing increases in taxes as Medicare costs rise (with 23 percent in favor).

- The respondents were about equally split on how they felt about raising the age of eligibility for Medicare.

Age also played a role in the responses of those polled, with older people more likely to favor leaving Medicare as it is, meaning leaving "traditional" Medicare in place while also keeping the Medicare Advantage program that is provided by private insurance companies.

The poll included 2,027 U.S adults over age 18 who were surveyed online between May 31 to June 2, 2011, by Harris Interactive, one of the world's leading custom market research firms, and HealthDay, a leading producer and syndicator of health news.

The complete findings of the newest joint Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll are available here. HealthDay's news report is available here. Full data on the poll and its methodology are available at Harris Interactive.

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About HealthDay

HealthDay, a division of Scout News LLC, is a leading producer and syndicator of evidence-based health news for consumers and physicians and is the largest syndicator of that news to Internet sites. Its consumer health news service (www.healthday.com) appears on more than 5,000 websites such as Yahoo!, MSN, iVillage, US News & World Report, hundreds of hospitals and hospital group websites, as well as print publication Web sites across the country. HealthDay also produces Physician's Briefing (www.physiciansbriefing.com); a news service for physicians, nurses and other medical professionals that is updated twice daily providing 15 articles a day across 32 medical specialties. HealthDay also provides custom content for major health portals. The newest addition to the HealthDay portfolio is HealthDay TV -- a 90-second news broadcast of essential health information that appears on several major media websites, US government websites and other health information sites.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us - and our clients - stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

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