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Are Americans Sick of the Health-Insurance Industry?

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The debate on healthcare reform has made the insurance industry a favorite punching bag, as when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced it recently for making "immoral profits." And it's not as if Americans were in love with health insurers anyway, as an Ipsos Public Affairs poll makes clear.

Part of the survey (conducted last month) invited respondents to formulate a list of behaviors they'd like to see on the part of insurers. Atop the roster (cited by 43 percent) was "low deductibles/co-pay/out-of-pocket costs." Close behind was "low cost of coverage" (41 percent) and "able to choose my own doctors" (38 percent). Also getting many mentions were "wide network of medical providers" (30 percent) and "willingness to pay claims" (29 percent). There was less interest in "good customer service" (18 percent).

Evidently consumers don't think the insurance companies do a good job of embodying the wished-for attributes. Forty-nine percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of the industry, vs. 18 percent voicing a favorable view of it. That's consistent with a Time/Abt SRBI survey last month that asked respondents how good a job they think private-sector health insurers are doing in providing coverage. Just 7 percent said they're doing an "excellent" job, with another 28 percent saying they're doing a "good" job.

Cost is clearly a mother lode of consumers' negative feelings. Twenty percent of the Ipsos respondents said the cost of their premiums rose over the past year "even though the level of their coverage remained the same." The same proportion said they are now paying "higher out-of-pocket costs."

As usual in such matters, people tend to think worse of the industry in general than they do of their own insurance plans. In Economist/YouGov polling last month, 41 percent said they're "very satisfied" and 34 percent "somewhat satisfied" with their own coverage. Just over one in five were dissatisfied-11 percent "somewhat" and 11 percent "very." A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll at the end of July and beginning of August yielded much the same results, with 74 percent of respondents "satisfied" and 23 percent "dissatisfied" with their coverage.