It's time to tackle unpredictability in health care

Americans are almost universally worried about the cost of health care for them and their families, no matter their income level, age, gender, race or political identification. According to a new Ipsos-Consumers for Quality Care (CQC) poll, health care continues to rank highest on a list of perennial concerns over retirement, housing, higher education and child care, regardless of party affiliation.

Leading into the midterm elections, a broad, bipartisan majority of voters wanted a new approach from politicians to tackle costs and ensure greater clarity in the system. While the new Congress and the administration seem to acknowledge these concerns by holding hearings around surprise billing and rising out-of-pocket costs and by requiring hospital pricing to be shared online, there’s been no real progress in addressing patient’s concerns.

With talk of Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal on the horizon once again and the loosening of requirements around essential health benefits and coverage of pre-existing conditions leading to more junk plans on the market, uncertainty around health-care costs continues to rise.

The pivotal finding in our most recent survey is that Americans ultimately want more predictability in what they are asked to pay for health-care services. They want their hard-earned dollars to go farther for them and they may even be willing to pay more upfront for better value and quality of care.

In fact, when given a choice, 81 percent would rather pay more on a monthly basis for a health plan that has comprehensive coverage with minimal fees when they need treatments, versus just 19 percent who would rather pay less on a monthly basis for a health plan with skimpy coverage and large fees when treatments are needed.

Similarly, 75 percent supported a proposed Medicare drug rebate policy, even when told that on average seniors would save on out-of-pocket costs and deductibles but pay $3 to $6 more per month for insurance. Sixty-six percent of Americans indicate they would support a similar change in the private or commercial insurance market.

Americans’ worries about health-care costs are due to the complexity of medical billing and lack of pricing transparency in the system, including hospital, insurance and prescription costs. Consumers are often in the dark about costs and struggle to understand the intricacies of the health-care system,

leading them to seek policy options that will bring them and their families more immediate relief.  

Ninety-one percent are concerned about receiving surprise bills from hospitals; 65 percent say it is difficult to understand the cost of care at a hospital, including finding out how much a hospital charges for a specific type of care; and 60 percent support capping the amount hospitals can mark up their medicine prices.

With renewed discussions underway about the direction of health care in the U.S., consumers must be given a voice in the ongoing debate. The Ipsos-CQC research makes clear that consumers across the country and across the political spectrum want policy makers to take tangible steps and implement real solutions to alleviate the unpredictability of health care cost — and finally help them understand how much they will pay for care.  

A new Negotiator’s Guide developed by CQC to give lawmakers and administration officials a clearer understanding of what consumers want them to tackle when it comes to health care provides a roadmap based on findings from this important survey. We urge Congress and the Trump administration to listen to changes consumers want in the health-care system and to enact solutions

Donna M. 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, a coalition of health advocates and former policy makers working to provide a voice for patients in the health-care debate as they demand better care.