Pan­demic does lit­tle to al­ter U.S. health care view­points, poll shows


WASH­ING­TON — The coro­n­avirus pushed hos­pi­tals to the edge, and mil­lions of work­ers lost job­based cov­er­age in the eco­nomic shut­down to slow the spread, but a new poll sug­gests Amer­i­cans have re­mark­ably lit­tle in­ter­est in big changes to health care as a re­sult of the pan­demic.

Peo­ple are still more likely to pre­fer the pri­vate sec­tor than the govern­ment on driv­ing in­no­va­tion in health care, im­prov­ing qual­ity and, by a nar­rower mar­gin, pro­vid­ing cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey by the Univer­sity of Chicago Har­ris School of Pub­lic Policy and The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search.

Those views are ba­si­cally un­changed since Fe­bru­ary, when an ear­lier edi­tion of the AP-NORC poll asked the same ques­tions at a time that the coro­n­avirus was still largely seen as a prob­lem in other coun­tries, not the United States.

“It does strike me as odd,” said Gaye Co­co­man, a re­tired data pro­cess­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor from small-town Mace­do­nia, Ohio, who has Medi­care. “I’m cov­ered, but I look at the mil­lions of peo­ple who aren’t and won­der what in the world they’re go­ing to do if they get sick. There seems to be no ap­petite for change.”

The poll found that peo­ple are more likely to trust pri­vate en­ti­ties over govern­ment at driv­ing in­no­va­tion in health care (70% to 28%), im­prov­ing qual­ity (62% to 36%) and pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance cov­er­age (53% to 44%). Amer­i­cans had more con­fi­dence in govern­ment’s abil­ity to re­duce costs, pre­fer­ring it over the pri­vate sec­tor 54% to 44%. All of those pref­er­ences are un­changed since be­fore COVID-19 ar­rived.

Not that long ago Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders’

“Medi­care for All” plan was at the cen­ter of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial de­bate. But even with an es­ti­mated 27 mil­lion peo­ple los­ing em­ployer cov­er­age in the eco­nomic shut­down, there’s been no groundswel­l of sup­port for the San­ders plan, which calls for re­plac­ing the na­tion’s hy­brid sys­tem of pri­vate and govern­ment cov­er­age with a sin­gle govern­ment plan for all.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked last month whether waves of lay­offs were prompt­ing her Demo­cratic cau­cus mem­bers to re­con­sider the em­ployer­based sys­tem that cov­ers most work­ing fam­i­lies, re­sponded: “That’s not our con­ver­sa­tion.”

Pelosi said Democrats are back­ing mea­sures to tide over work­ers who have lost cov­er­age — such as ex­pan­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act — but “rather than say­ing let’s take that [em­ployer cov­er­age] away from them, we should say let’s get them their jobs back.”

It could sim­ply be a re­flec­tion of hu­man na­ture to shelve am­bi­tious schemes dur­ing a cri­sis, said health economist Kather­ine Baicker, dean of the Univer­sity of Chicago Har­ris School of Pub­lic Policy. There’s only so much avail­able band­width.

“I won­der if the short­term cri­sis damp­ens peo­ple’s ap­petite for health sys­tem re­form,” Baicker said. “The idea of up­end­ing the health sys­tem at this mo­ment ... it may be that peo­ple think, ‘No — let’s get a vac­cine.’ “

Af­ter the spec­ta­cle of coro­n­avirus-re­lated short­ages of ev­ery­thing from cot­ton swabs, to pro­tec­tive gear for nurses and doc­tors, to breath­ing ma­chines for des­per­ately ill pa­tients, the poll did find 56% say­ing the U.S. is spend­ing too lit­tle on im­prov­ing and pro­tect­ing the na­tion’s health.

That is a sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger share than the 42% who think the govern­ment is spend­ing too lit­tle in gen­eral. Still, views on the need for more health care spend­ing were un­changed since be­fore the pan­demic.

Christina Rush, a mid­dle school coun­selor from Raleigh, N.C., is among those who think the U.S. should spend more on health care and cites the virus as a rea­son.

“Look­ing at COVID, I didn’t re­al­ize the huge short­ages of ma­te­rial that would be needed,” Rush said. “I would have thought we had what we needed in terms of the med­i­cal sys­tem.”

With more than 100,000 deaths from COVID19 and about 40 mil­lion peo­ple un­em­ployed, the poll found what may re­flect hints of in­tro­spec­tion among those who still have jobs and cov­er­age. In May, Amer­i­cans were less fo­cused on their own com­plaints.

While about 3 in 5 said they were very or ex­tremely con­cerned about Amer­i­cans

in gen­eral hav­ing ac­cess to high qual­ity care, peo­ple were less likely than in Fe­bru­ary to say they were greatly con­cerned about hav­ing ac­cess to qual­ity care for them­selves (46% to 58%) and about their own health care spend­ing (35% to 44%).

Other re­search is re­in­forc­ing that pat­tern, said Jen­nifer Benz, deputy di­rec­tor of the APNORC cen­ter. “Our data are show­ing that in the midst of a pub­lic health and eco­nomic cri­sis, peo­ple’s assessment­s of their own sit­u­a­tions are hold­ing steady, or even bet­ter than they were be­fore the COVID out­break started to un­furl,” she said.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,001 adults was con­ducted May 14-18 us­ing a sam­ple drawn from NORC’s prob­a­bil­ity-based Amer­iS­peak Panel, which is de­signed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror for all re­spon­dents is plus or mi­nus 4.4 per­cent­age points.

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