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September 10, 2020
COVID-19 Magnifies Consumers’ Love-Hate Relationship with Healthcare
David Burda
Consumerism Economics System Dynamics

COVID-19 Magnifies Consumers’ Love-Hate Relationship with Healthcare

We’re going to turn this week’s blog post over to consumers, who are going to tell you what they think about the healthcare system via two new opinion polls from Gallup, the well-known opinion poll taker. 

We’ll talk about what the two polls said in chronological order so you don’t think I’m stacking the deck or anything like that to make a point. 

Gallup released the results of the first poll on Sept. 1, and you can download them here

The firm interviewed 1,007 adults from July 1 through July 24 and asked them how worried they are that a major medical event in their lives could force them into bankruptcy. Clearly, the intent of the poll was to take consumers’ pulse on the affordability of medical care. And their pulse is racing.

Fifty percent of the respondents described themselves as “concerned” or “extremely concerned” that a major (read costly) health event could lead to bankruptcy. That’s up from 45 percent who said the same thing in a similar poll that Gallup took in early 2019.

Further, 15 percent said that they’re currently carrying long-term medical debt that they won’t be able to pay off within the next 12 months.  And if they had to pay a $500 medical bill today, 54 percent said it would have to come out of a savings or checking account not dedicated to healthcare-related expenses. Twenty-six percent said they would have to put it on their credit card or borrow the money. 

Gallup released the results of the second poll on Sept. 8, and you can download them here

The firm interviewed 1,031 adults from July 30 through Aug. 12 and asked them how they felt about 26 different industries. They had five choices for each industry: very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative. 

Consumers ranked the healthcare industry 13th out of 26 industries with a net positive score of 20 points. Fifty-one percent of the respondents said their view of the healthcare industry was “very” or “somewhat” positive versus 31 percent who said their view of healthcare was “somewhat” or “very” negative. Fifty-one minus 31 is 20. That’s where the net positive score of 20 comes from.

The 51 percent is a big jump from the 38 percent who said their view of healthcare was “very” or “somewhat” positive a year ago in a similar poll by Gallup. That was the biggest one year jump in positive feelings of any of the queried industries. 

In fact, and I’ll quote Gallup here, “This is the first time in the 20 years of Gallup measurement that a majority of Americans have rated healthcare positively.” Fifty-one percent is a majority albeit slim.

When you put the two polls together, you have more people liking the healthcare system even though more people think using it will ruin them financially. 

Maybe we’re becoming like the National Health Service in the U.K.? Everyone hates it, but only Brits can hate it. They also love the NHS at the same time because it’s theirs alone and a source of national pride. And don’t even think about taking it away from them even though they complain about it constantly.

More likely the two polls reflect a COVID-19 bump. 

With many people losing their jobs and along with them their employer-based health insurance, the fear of getting a big medical bill is real for more people. Meanwhile, the three highest-ranked industries were farming and agriculture, grocery and restaurant with net positive scores of 58, 51 and 46, respectively. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the industries responsible for keeping us fed during a pandemic ended up on top. Certainly some of those warm feelings and appreciation extended to healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line to treat COVID patients. 

If and when the pandemic ends, it will be interesting to see how the numbers in each Gallup poll change. Will the fear of medical bill-related bankruptcy continue? Will the positive opinion of healthcare last?

I’ll keep an eye out for the next round of Gallup polls and let you know.

Thanks for reading.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay alive. 

Want to know what healthcare executives are talking about this week? Subscribe to the 4sight Friday RoundUp on iTunes, Spotify, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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