Healthcare Gets a Wary Checkup

In dealing with any part of the healthcare system, it’d be nice to think the practitioners are looking out chiefly for our interests. But consumers will believe that when they see it, judging by Kaiser Family Foundation polling last month.

One of the survey’s questions asked how much trust respondents have in various people and institutions “to put your interests above their own” when it comes to your medical care. The responses were most favorable for “your doctor,” with 47 percent saying they have “a lot” of trust and 31 percent saying they have “some” that this person would put the patient’s interests first. The scores were nearly as good for “the nurses at your doctor’s office,” with 39 percent of respondents having a lot of trust in them and 35 percent having some. “Your pharmacist” also fared well (35 percent “a lot,” 34 percent “some”).

At the opposite end of the spectrum where the pharmaceutical companies that make consumers’ prescription drugs. Just 12 percent expressed a lot of trust in these companies to put the consumer’s interests above their own; 37 percent said they trust Big Pharma “not at all” to do so. The numbers were just slightly better for “your health-insurance company,” with the 19 percent saying “a lot” easily outnumbered by the 28 percent saying “not at all.”

A separate Kaiser survey (in conjunction with National Public Radio and the Harvard School of Public Health) finds an epidemic of undertreatment — and an epidemic of overtreatment. Sixteen percent of this poll’s respondents believe they got a medical treatment or test within the past two years that “was probably not necessary.” But 14 percent think there were times within that period when they did not receive a treatment or test that actually was necessary.

Despite consumers’ grousing about their health coverage, the Kaiser/NPR/
Harvard poll elicited some positive words for respondents’ insurers. Among those who have coverage, 51 percent agreed that “My health insurance is good and I feel well-protected when it comes to my healthcare needs.” Just 7 percent said their insurance is “inadequate,” and that they “feel very worried about my healthcare needs not being paid for.” In the middle were 41 percent who said their insurance “is adequate, but I worry that I might have healthcare needs that it won’t pay for.”