Red States and Rosier Views on U.S. Healthcare

Most Republican voters say the nation's health system beats others'. Many Dems and independents disagree.

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You have to wonder if we're all using the same doctors and hospitals when 68 percent of Republicans say they think our healthcare system is the best in the world while only 32 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents would make that claim.

The surprisingly wide disparity in perception was revealed in a poll released yesterday by the Harvard School of Public Health and Harris Interactive. The poll also found that nearly three quarters of Republicans believed that patients in the United States get better quality care and face shorter waiting times to see specialists or be admitted to a hospital than do their counterparts in Canada, France, or Great Britain. Less than half of Democrats and independents felt that way.

The telephone survey of 1,026 adults found that Democrats and independents were more pessimistic than Republicans on every measure of healthcare performance. When it came to the cost of healthcare, however, all parties agreed: It's a problem. Just 26 percent of respondents said we do a better job of making sure everyone can get affordable healthcare than the three countries—Canada, France, and Great Britain—with healthcare systems most often compared with ours. And only 21 percent said we're better at controlling healthcare costs.

(Apparently, many respondents didn't let a lack of knowledge get in the way of forming an opinion about how well or poorly our health system stacks up against others. Asked specifically how the U.S. system compares overall with that of France, more than half of respondents said "don't know," and 40 percent were unable to weigh in on Great Britain. Twenty-six percent said they didn't know how Canada's system compared with ours.)

Although the United States spends more per capita on healthcare than other countries, many studies have found that the extra expenditures don't always pay off in better health for its citizens. For example, in a report in the January/February issue of the journal Health Affairs that I wrote about here, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the United States ranked last among 19 industrialized countries in preventable deaths—those that shouldn't occur when people get timely, effective care.

More than half of Democratic respondents to the new Harvard/Harris poll said they'd be more likely to support a candidate who said our healthcare system should be more like systems in other countries. Thirty-seven percent of independents agreed. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, given their rosy perception of the U.S. healthcare system, fewer than 1 in 5 Republicans said they'd be more likely to support such a candidate.