A Zogby International opinion poll, conducted June 18-21 and released by the Galen Institute, found overwhelming public support for private-sector options in Medicare … as well as fear the complex drug benefit crafted by the Senate could be worse than the coverage many seniors now have.
The poll suggests voters would like the option of enrolling in private plans to provide overall health coverage in Medicare, but they are very skeptical about the impact of the proposed free-standing drug benefit.
Congress is currently debating the largest expansion of Medicare in its history. The survey thus was conducted in “real time,” while the issue is attracting substantial attention in the press and generating much discussion among taxpayers, voters, senior citizens, and the general public.
Zogby surveyed by telephone 1,007 likely voters nationwide. The poll has an overall margin of error of ± 3.2 percent, with the margin slightly higher for poll sub-samples. Among the poll’s findings:
- 82 percent of all voters surveyed and 67 percent of seniors agreed “seniors should have the option of picking a private health plan approved by the Medicare program to provide their health benefits.”
- The drug benefit being debated in the Senate was described to those with drug coverage, who were then asked if it would be better than the coverage they currently have. Seventy-four percent of seniors said it would be no better, while 16 percent said it would be better.
- Of seniors without drug coverage, 43 percent said they would be likely to buy the new policy (16 percent “very likely” and 27 percent “somewhat likely”).
- 66 percent are worried “a government-provided prescription drug benefit might mean that some people could lose their private health care coverage and become more dependent on government funding.”
- 78 percent said “if the government gets into the business of providing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare … the government would eventually control what drugs are produced and developed.”
- 77 percent overall and 80 percent of seniors agreed “seniors should have to pay something for their prescription drugs to keep the Medicare program from going broke and so the next generation of seniors does not become a greater burden on future taxpayers.” Only 18 percent overall and 15 percent of seniors said they should be entitled to all the drugs they need, “even if it puts serious financial strains on the Medicare program.”
- Seniors also were asked if they would support a plan that provided $600 on a drug card for lower income seniors, with protection from large drug expenses starting at $2,000. Seventy-five percent supported such a plan. Voters were evenly split–44 percent to 44 percent–over whether the federal government or private health plans “would do a better job of getting lower prices on prescription drugs for seniors.”
- 51 percent said they would support increasing the eligibility age for Medicare to 66 or 67, while 48 percent would not support such a move. Those already over age 65 supported the change by an even wider 61-36 percent margin.
In addition to showing widespread skepticism about a government-provided drug benefit, the poll also reflects some of the confusion on Capitol Hill, particularly regarding the impact of price controls or administered pricing.
For example, voters were evenly split over whether the federal government or private health plans “would do a better job of getting lower prices on prescription drugs for seniors.” However, the survey shows voters are concerned that if the government gets into the business of providing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, it would eventually control what drugs are produced and developed. This would be a particular concern with the “fall-back” drug benefit plan in the Senate bill.
Further, voters seem much more inclined to opt for private-sector plans if they are “approved by Medicare” (82 percent) than when that protection is not provided (54 percent). Younger voters are more inclined than seniors to be interested in a private-sector option for Medicare. This suggests Congress should consider laying the foundation now for a competitive model Medicare program that will be in place and ready for the influx of Baby Boomers beginning in eight years.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute. Her email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The full survey report is available in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format at the Galen Institute Web site, http://www.galen.org/news/Medicare_Survey.pdf.