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Commonwealth Fund Poll Finds Widespread Unhappiness with Health Care

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

April 6, 2011 -- U.S. adults surveyed in a Commonwealth Fund poll say they have problems with access to health care, including timely doctors' appointments, advice from physicians on the phone or after-hours care outside an emergency room.

The finding that 71 percent can't get needed help is unsurprising and points to persistent underlying problems in the nation's health care system, said Cathy Schoen, a vice president of the nonpartisan fund and a coauthor of a report analyzing the poll results. She said the new health care law is intended to provide coordinated care that should begin to address these issues.

For example, the Obama administration last week announced regulations for accountable care organizations within Medicare that are supposed to produce better results by creating teams of health care providers working together. The health care law also provides funds for training additional primary care doctors.

The poll also found that seven out of 10 adults think the health care system needs to be completely changed. Only 22 percent said it works relatively well with little change needed.

And 21 percent said they or a family member experienced an infection or complication because of medical care, because a provider made a mistake or both.

The desire for change accompanies an unease about the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) detected in other polls. "Although recent public opinion surveys have found the public is often ambivalent or unaware of the content of reforms, patients' and families' experiences attest to the need for action to ensure a safer, more responsive, better coordinated, and less wasteful health care system," the report says.

The poll was done by Harris Interactive Inc. by telephone between Feb. 7 and Feb. 11 with a representative sample of 1,011 adults. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

The survey also found:

  • Electronic access to health care information is not very good, though interest is strong. Among people with Internet access, just 14 percent said they are able to access their medical records online, while 22 percent said they can schedule medical appointments, 21 percent said they can e-mail their physicians and 34 percent said they can order a prescription refill.
  • Nearly half of those polled said they had problems paying medical bills in the past year, and 33 percent said they had a payment denied or were paid less than expected by a health insurer during the past two years.
  • Even Americans with relatively high incomes worry about paying for medical care; the survey found that's a concern among 55 percent of those with incomes above $75,000 a year.

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