A new poll of 1,011 American households conducted in December 1996 by the National Coalition on Health Care in Washington, D.C., reveals that a majority of Americans are highly critical and dissatisfied with many aspects of conventional medical care. The survey respondents were drawn from a representative cross-section of U.S. households, making the findings "nationally projectable," according to the Coalition.

In the poll, 79% agreed that something is "seriously wrong" with the U.S. health-care system, while 87% said the general quality of care needs to be improved. Only 15% expressed "complete confidence" in hospital care and only 44% felt confident the system would take care of them.

An overbearing interest in profits is compromising the health-care system making quality medical care unaffordable to the average American, said 79%; 80% contend that insurance companies cut corners in care to save money, while 74% blame hospitals, and 64% believe that costs have increased while quality has declined. Health insurance premiums cost more bit offer less coverage, say 71%, while 64% believe that insurance company "greed" is driving up health-care costs, and only 24% contend that these companies put the customers' interests ahead of profits.

A startling 75% of Americans are frightened by accounts of medical mistakes that have damaged or killed patients, 57% fear getting sicker or injured by mistakes once they are hospitalized, 44% report having had a "bad experience" with medical treatment, and 43% say there is not much "care" left in health care. The study results exhibit "a notable lack of confidence in the health-care system at large," stated the Coalition's Executive Summary. "These anxieties crossed gender, political, age, economic, and regional boundaries."

According to a related report by the Coalition, prepared by Kenneth E. Thorpe of Tulane University Medical Center, health-care costs are likely to rise at the rate of 6.7% annually and continue climbing up to 2.5 times faster than the rate of inflation between 1997 and 2002. The report noted that married couples with children will likely pay 5.5% above inflation and single-parent families might pay up to 10% above inflation. Overall, the annual cost of U.S. health care, now $1 trillion, is projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2002 - a 50% increase.

In the Digest's view, surely these figures are sufficient grounds for calling for an alternative, lower-cost, more effective, higher-quality health-care system. Such an alternative already exists in the form of alternative medicine; given half a chance and allowed free reign in the marketplace, it could surely make a dramatic difference in the economics of staying well in the U.S.

Alternative Medicine Digest/Issue 19

Sources:-"How Americans Perceive the Health Care System," National Coalition on Health Care (January 1997), and "Changes in the Growth in Health Care Spending: Implications for Consumers" (April 1997); Kenneth E. Thorpe, 555 13th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20004.

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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