Healthcare doubts remain

Americans appear to be growing more satisfied with the healthcare they are receiving, the costs, and the managed-care plans they use.

But many still have doubts about the future of the nation's healthcare system. In particular, they are concerned about their future ability to afford prescription drugs and to choose the doctors they want.

That's according to the 2001 Health Confidence Survey (HCS) released Oct. 6 by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, Consumer Health Education Council, and Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

Last month, the US Chamber of Commerce hailed Census Bureau data showing that the number of Americans without health insurance had dropped by 600,000 between 1999 and 2000. But it warned that the slowing economy, combined with pending legislation that would expand patients' rights to sue providers (potentially causing some employers to drop coverage), could reverse the trend.

Even as a growing number of Americans appear somewhat more knowledgeable about managed healthcare plans - which cover the vast majority of people with employment-based health insurance, and many with Medicare or Medicaid - more than half of those polled in the HCS were unfamiliar with managed care.

Similarly, almost two-thirds of respondents did not understand that they will be eligible for Medicare, the nation's health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, at age 65.

Among other findings:

• Forty-six percent of Americans are "extremely" or "very" satisfied with the healthcare they have received in the past two years, up from 39 percent in the 2000 poll.

• Only 34 percent of Americans are extremely or very confident that they will be able to get the treatments they need during the next 10 years, and only 21 percent are extremely or very confident that they will be able to get needed treatments once they are eligible for Medicare.

• Thirty-eight percent each are "not too" or "not at all" confident in being able to afford prescription drugs without financial hardship and to afford healthcare without financial hardship in the next 10 years.

• Of Americans without health insurance, 32 percent have delayed seeking healthcare since losing coverage, and 22 percent have decided not to get healthcare they thought they needed.

• Only 31 percent of those without coverage were aware of low-cost or free insurance programs for uninsured adults or children in their state.

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