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Poll: Millions Know People Who Died Because Health Care Was Unaffordable

December 31, 2019

A new poll shows more than 13 percent of American adults believe someone they know died because they did not receive needed medical treatment or could not pay for it.

The poll says 34 million U.S. adults know someone who died after not getting treatment because they could not afford it, and 58 million adults report an inability to pay for needed drugs. 

When asked whether there was a time in the last five years when a friend or family member passed away after not receiving treatment because they had “an inability to pay for it,” the highest rate of yes answers came from nonwhites (20.3 percent), those with household incomes under $40,000 (18.5 percent), and those aged 18-44 (16.9 percent). Independents and Democrats said yes at more than double the rate of Republicans.

The November 12 poll by Gallup in conjunction with West Health, a group of nonprofit organizations focused on health care costs for seniors, surveyed 1,099 adults across the United States, asking eight questions about how the political parties are addressing health care costs. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

Pushing Socialized Medicine?

The poll is poorly designed and a thinly disguised effort to push a socialist agenda, says Dr. John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D., an emergency room physician and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.

“Its major flaws include a lack of controls on the survey, led by self-selection of respondents, poor control of data on the responses, and the pollsters accepting recall bias,” said Dunn.

Dunn says the poll resembles those used to make the case for Obamacare by exaggerating the number of people without health insurance.

“For example, they were counting people who were uninsured for short periods of job changes or counting people who could afford insurance but choose not to spend their money on it,” said Dunn.

The goal of this poll is the same, says Dunn.

“Create some terrible problem so the government can come to the rescue,” said Dunn. “This death study is just more cherry-picking to push socialized medicine.”

‘Medication Insecurity’ Angle

The poll also dives into what it calls “medication insecurity,” reporting a rising percentage of U.S. adults report not having enough money in the last 12 months to pay for medication.

The perception may outweigh reality on this subject, says Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D., president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

“It’s a matter of spending priorities,” said Singleton. “I wonder if those same people who cannot afford to buy medications buy a mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks daily or find money for regular mani-pedis. Drug insecurity now joins food and housing as fertile ground for government intervention.”

Media Take the Bait

Media outlets gave broad, sympathetic coverage to the poll and its narrative.

“Health cost casualties: 34 million Americans know someone who died because they couldn’t pay for care,” stated the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A shocking number of Americans know someone who died due to unaffordable health,” stated Huffpost.

The survey was released while Congress considers bills to control prescription drug prices. In its news release, Gallup stated, “drug prices directly affect consumers, and with the U.S. one year away from the 2020 election, presidential candidates will increasingly be asked to explain and defend their policy positions on rising drug costs.”

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is managing editor of Health Care News.

Author
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.
amschieber@heartland.org @HCPolicy