What do voters want in health care? Hint: Not partisan politics

With less than two weeks before contentious midterm elections, agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the right course for Congress may seem more unlikely than hitting a billion-dollar jackpot. But, one lucky South Carolinian did win the Mega Millions lottery, and it turns out Americans on both ends of the political spectrum do overwhelmingly agree upon solutions that government and the private sector can support to improve the system for patients. 

That surprising finding is one of many unearthed in a new survey from Ipsos on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care (CQC). Heading into Election Day, it underscores voters’ strong appetite for meaningful, bipartisan solutions – not continued partisan politics on threadbare issues. 

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A previous CQC-Ipsos survey released in April of this year identified a range of concerns about health care, including affordability and transparency. In this new survey, CQC delved deeper into what is driving consumers’ health care concerns and what they want to see done about it.

What we learned in our new survey is that when it comes to health care, consumers are deeply frustrated with the system. The top four most frustrating issues for Americans when using health care include hospital fees and unexpected “surprise” bills, insurance costs such as co-pays and deductibles, out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions, and out-of-pocket costs for routine visits to doctors.

To avoid getting hit with surprise bills and shocking fees, consumers want predictability in costs and more clarity and transparency across the board. Two in three Americans say they struggle with predicting how much they will have to pay for health care when they need it and they want to know how much they are going to have to pay. Consumers want more transparency and clarity on what is or is not covered by their insurance, out-of-pocket hospital and prescription drug costs and how often and why payments for specific health treatments prescribed by doctors are denied by insurers.

While many Americans believe the private health care industry has even more power than policymakers to improve the system, they desperately want U.S. politicians to take a new, bipartisan approach to fixing health care; a large majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans agree that improving the health care system should be a “top” or “major” priority for their elected representatives. In the meantime, three-quarters of all respondents believe that politicians in Washington are focused on the wrong things when it comes to fixing health care and 67 percent say lawmakers need to set aside partisan politics and find ways to improve health care.

A broad, bipartisan majority of voters want a new approach from politicians and private sector health care entities to tackle costs and ensure greater clarity in the system. The changes a strong majority of Americans want to see include informing customers at the point-of-sale if there was a way to save money on a prescription (80 percent support this); requiring increased transparency from hospitals, health insurers, and pharmaceutical companies about cost and access to health care (77 percent); requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide more information about drug costs and financial assistance that may be available to patients (75 percent); and requiring hospitals and clinics to show how much they are marking up the costs for standard treatments (69 percent).

As usual, the debate in Washington is too focused on partisan bickering and not on the many areas of common ground that consumers – both Democrats and Republicans – have with health care problems and solutions. When the dust settles after Nov. 6, Congress and key players in the health care industry can assure voters that their concerns are being heard by making substantive changes to increase the clarity and transparency in our health care system, while preserving quality.

Christensen retired from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, where she served nine terms representing the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is the first female physician to serve as a member in the history of the U.S Congress. She now serves on the board of directors of Consumers for Quality Care.