IssuesPA/Pew Poll Finds 44 Percent of Pennsylvanians Think Health Care Is Getting Worse

IssuesPA/Pew Poll Finds 44 Percent of Pennsylvanians Think Health Care Is Getting Worse

The latest IssuesPA/Pew Poll shows that Pennsylvanians have major concerns about health care issues -- particularly costs, but including access, quality and medical malpractice.

When asked to consider all aspects of health care - availability, cost and quality - 44 percent of Pennsylvanians think that health care is getting worse where they live. That's up from 41 percent in July of 2002.  Most often cited as the cause of the decline are the rising costs of care (37 percent) and the impact of malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs (20 percent).

Healthcare issues are tied with the economy and the situation in Iraq as the issue most important in determining Pennsylvanians' votes for President in the upcoming election. When asked an open-ended question to name the most important problem facing Pennsylvania today, 12 percent said health care - behind only jobs (27 percent) and taxes (13 percent) and outranking education, crime, and the economy.

Compared to the results of recent national polls, the IssuesPA/Pew poll shows that Pennsylvanians are significantly more worried about health care issues than the nation overall. The results also show that, although they're not convinced that more government intervention will make the overall healthcare system better, Pennsylvanians want government to expand its role to ensure that more people have access to health insurance coverage.

Though nearly one-quarter of Pennsylvanians oppose an expanded government role in health care, 71 percent think the government should expand its role: 24 percent of Pennsylvanians polled think a universal health insurance system under a government-run program is the way to go; the remaining 45 percent who support an expanded government role prefer a mixed system where employers are offered tax breaks as incentive to provide health insurance for more workers and their families and government provides access to health insurance for those left without any coverage.

"Pennsylvanians have strong opinions on health care issues," said Larry Hugick of Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the pollster for the IssuesPA/Pew poll. "Their increasing concerns about health care costs mirror and exceed the growing concern we are seeing nationally - meaning that addressing the rising costs of care and insurance is likely to be one of the leading domestic issues in the fall election."

Pennsylvanians are concerned about the growing costs of health care. When asked what is MOST responsible for driving up the costs of healthcare, respondents name malpractice lawsuits (31 percent) and drug company profits (26 percent) first. Technological advancements, the aging population and extended life expectancy rank low, although research shows that these are key cost drivers.

Fifty-five percent have had one or more problems with health care affordability or access, including having difficulty affording the cost of prescription drugs (33 percent), putting off or postponing preventative care because of costs (28 percent), having difficulty affording the cost of necessary medical care (26 percent), and putting off or postponing treatment for an illness or injury because of cost (25 percent). Respondents also report staying at a job just to keep the health insurance coverage (21 percent) and being dropped from a health insurance plan or refused coverage (13 percent).

Not surprisingly, those with above average incomes are less impacted by issues of cost and access. As income rises, those reporting difficulty with costs or access to health care declines.

Increasing costs impact consumer behavior. For example, 40 percent of Pennsylvania's families report taking steps to reduce prescription drug costs, including not filling prescriptions prescribed by their doctors, cutting pills in half or taking them less often than prescribed, and taking a non-prescription medicine instead of a prescription. Buying medicine over the Internet or in other countries are not the most common approaches to reducing prescription drug costs for Pennsylvanians, according to the poll.

Health care has a major impact on the state's overall economy - from state government's many roles as purchaser of healthcare, provider of insurance, and regulator of the health care industry to the business community's growing concerns over the cost of health insurance for employees to consumers feeling the pinch in their wallets from rising out-of-pocket health care costs.

"Sound health care policy is vital not only to Pennsylvanians' physical health - but also to the state's economic health," said Karen Miller, managing director of IssuesPA. "The rapid rise in the level of concern should catch the attention of everyone who has a role in shaping health care policy in the Commonwealth."

Medical malpractice has been the primary health care issue in the news in recent months and that focus is reflected in the responses to questions about medical malpractice. When asked whether the state Constitution should be changed to cap the amount of money a jury in a medical malpractice case can award for pain and suffering, 68 percent favored caps, while 24 percent opposed caps.

One in four Pennsylvanians say rising malpractice insurance costs have forced their family to change doctors in the past year -- because their doctor stopped practicing altogether, stopped providing certain services, or moved to another part of the state or out of state. The problem varies by region. For example, in southeastern PA 33 percent report changing doctors due to rising malpractice costs, but in southcentral PA, it drops to only 19 percent.

About the IssuesPA/Pew Poll and Survey Methodology

The IssuesPA/Pew Poll is a core component of the Pennsylvania Economy League's IssuesPA initiative. Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI) conducted the poll for IssuesPA. Funding for the IssuesPA/Pew Poll was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,252 Pennsylvania adults, 18 years and older. The interviews were conducted from August 13-21, 2004.  The margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points for results based on total adults. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can also introduce error or bias to poll results.

About IssuesPA

IssuesPA ( is a nonpartisan statewide awareness project focused exclusively on raising the issues most critical to Pennsylvania's economic future. The Pennsylvania Economy League initially launched IssuesPA to promote issue awareness around the 2002 gubernatorial election. Post-election, the project has been transformed into the leading resource on state-level issues and policies in Pennsylvania, coupled with a dynamic, multi-media outreach strategy. IssuesPA is funded in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The William Penn Foundation.

About The Pennsylvania Economy League

The Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) is an independent, nonprofit public policy research organization. PEL is a force for positive change -- the state's leading regionally based, statewide public policy organization. Working with Pennsylvania's public and private sectors, PEL provides independent research and insight on emerging issues to stimulate public and private action to make Pennsylvania a better place to live, work, and do business. PEL's goal is to create a knowledgeable corporate and civic audience that will ensure the Commonwealth's economic competitiveness.