Do Americans Want Universal Health Care? It Depends On How You Ask The Question

When actress Sally Field won the 1985 Academy Award, she famously said, “You like me.  You really like me.”  I think if you were to ask Americans if they want universal health care they would respond similarly, “We want it.  We really want it.”  In fact, I know it’s true because each year the Gallup polling organizations asks Americans if they think the government should ensure health care for everyone and in most years more than 50% respond in the affirmative.  For example, in 2018, 57% responded ‘yes’ to that question.[1]

Of course, how you respond to a survey question depends on how it is worded.[2]  With that in mind, I made up a few survey items which can be answered with a simple ‘agree’ or disagree”:

  1. I would support a national health care program that guarantees that I (and my family) have health care coverage no matter my employment status (i.e. working full time, part-time, laid off, terminated, or between jobs).   Agree    Disagree
  2. I would support a national health care program where I don’t have to pay copays and deductibles.   Agree    Disagree
  3. I would support a national health care program that allows me to go to the doctor of my choice.   Agree      Disagree
  4. I would support a national health care program that guarantees there are no surprise bills, such as from a doctor who is not part of my insurance network.   Agree    Disagree
  5. I would support a national health care program where the payments are less than what I currently pay for employer-based health insurance or individual health insurance through the insurance exchanges.   Agree    Disagree
  6. I would support a national health care program where everyone pays into the system, to ensure that there are no “free-loaders.”   Agree    Disagree
  7. I would support a national health care program that helps the poorest Americans pay for health insurance to ensure that the cost of health care is not a burden on them.   Agree Disagree
  8. I would support a national health care program that has the authority to negotiate the cost of medications with pharmaceutical companies.   Agree     Disagree
  9. I would support a national health care program that doesn’t pay health insurance executives multi-million dollar salaries.   Agree    Disagree
  10. I would support a national health care program that covers the cost of new and experimental treatments and medications.   Agree    Disagree
  11. I would support a national health care program that pays for dental and optical services.   Agree    Disagree
  12. I would support a national health care program that provides preventive services, such as vaccinations, annual wellness checkups, and health counseling services.   Agree    Disagree

Some might criticize these questions and claim they only highlight the positive side of universal health care.  Of course they do and that’s because universal health care is a better approach to delivering health care than the current hodgepodge of different insurance companies, with different mandates, different payment schedules, different paperwork, and different medication formularies.  I could include a question for conservations such as:

“Would you support a national health care program that adds $32 trillion over the next ten years to current government health care costs?”

But if I did that, then I would need to add a conditional statement:

“Would you support a national health care program that adds $32 trillion over the next ten years to current government health care costs, even though if we don’t have a national health care program, government and private health care costs could go up by more than $45 to $50 trillion?”

When provided the additional information, I think most Americans are smart enough to opt for the less expensive approach.  And, as I pointed out in an earlier article, we really don’t know if $32 trillion is an accurate estimate.

If you agree with most if not all of these survey questions, then you not only support the concept of universal health care, you support the specific plan I propose in my book The Case for Universal Health Care.  If it sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that I am proposing a tax on the sale of all goods and services, which I refer to as the health care transaction tax.  The more goods and services that are produced and delivered, the more revenue that is generated to pay for the program.  The health care transaction tax, along with several other sources of revenue, such as a 5¢ tax on bulletins should generate sufficient funding to ensure the program is sustainable now and into the future.  And most Americans would pay less for health insurance than they currently do.[3]

You may be wondering why no one has conducted a poll that asks these questions.  Obviously, Republicans wouldn’t because the last thing they want is data that supports universal health care.  Better to keep the current, expensive system where millions of Americans don’t have health insurance or often can’t afford to use the health insurance they have due to high, out-of-pocket costs.  Besides, most Republicans depend on large, reelection donations from the insurance industry.

Democrats are less beholding to the insurance industry but haven’t figured out the best way to pay for universal health care (hint: they should read my book).  And as I explained in my last article, Democrats aren’t very good at framing and communicating issues.  If I was one of the Democratic candidates, I would hire a polling organization and have them administer these questions to a random sample.  Imagine the boost that candidate could get if he or she could say, “Guess what?  We asked a random sample of 1,200 Americans if they would support a national health program and by a broad margin they did!”


[1]  https://news.gallup.com/poll/4708/healthcare-system.aspx

[2]  Colton, David and Covert, Robert (2007). Designing and Constructing Instruments for Social Research and Evaluation. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

[3] The wealthiest Americans buy more stuff and more expensive stuff than the rest of us, so they will pay more.  But they’ll still pay less than what some Democratic presidential candidates are proposing they pay.

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