WASHINGTON--Addressing the rising cost of healthcare should be one of the top items on the domestic agenda for the new Congress, according to a national poll from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The poll results were released at a forum today co-sponsored by BCBSA and Forbes magazine on the future of healthcare at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In the poll, 40 percent of the consumers identified the combination of healthcare and prescription drug costs as two domestic issues that should be priorities for the incoming Congress. For the consumers surveyed, healthcare ranked slightly behind the number-one domestic priorities of the economy and jobs (41 percent) and ahead of Social Security and Medicare (29 percent).

"It is crystal clear from this poll that the rising cost of healthcare is one of the greatest concerns facing American consumers today," said BCBSA President and CEO Scott P. Serota. "The poll provides an excellent blueprint for not only the new Congress, but for all of us in the healthcare industry as we work together to identify real and meaningful solutions to keep quality healthcare affordable."

In comments at the forum, Serota painted a "vision for a better healthcare system for the future" based on a series of solutions to champion healthcare affordability for consumers.

"That future begins with incentives that reward hospitals and doctors for the quality of care they deliver rather than the number of procedures they perform," he said. "Building on quality, we would provide the better information and tools, which means sharing and following best medical practices, and empowering consumers with information to make more informed healthcare decisions for themselves and their families."

Calling for reform measures to "shield good doctors and hospitals from frivolous lawsuits," he said the Blues support President Bush in seeking medical liability reforms which will cap or put an end to "unnecessary lawsuits and protect consumer access to care."

Conducted by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies and Geoffrey Garin of Peter D. Hart Associates, the poll is the first comprehensive survey gauging consumer views on healthcare since the presidential election on Nov. 2. The poll was conducted with 1,000 consumers on Nov. 4, 6 and 7.

When asked to identify the leading factors behind the rise in healthcare costs, 60 percent of the consumers said that prescription drugs are the leading factor followed by the cost of hospital care (51 percent), medical malpractice insurance and lawsuits (48 percent), and waste, fraud, abuse (44 percent).

In the poll, consumers were asked to select the top healthcare issues the new Congress should address beginning in January 2005. The top four areas were: assuring access to health coverage for every American (68 percent), making sure people have access to affordable prescription drugs (67 percent), slowing down the steep rise in healthcare costs (63 percent), and reducing costly fraud and abuse in the healthcare system (56 percent).

Consumers also would like Congress to address issues of the uninsured. They would offer assistance to individuals who cannot afford health insurance on their own, but do not qualify for government support (52 percent), provide tax credits to small businesses so they can offer health coverage to their employees (51 percent), and expand federal health insurance programs so that eligible adults and children are actually enrolled (50 percent).

"Creating tax credits for small businesses so they can provide their employees with health coverage as well as expanding government programs, such as S-CHIP and Medicaid, to those that are eligible but not currently enrolled are key elements of the uninsured proposals advanced by BCBSA," said Serota. "I am encouraged by the support for these proposals and this should be a strong signal that they should receive consideration as the uninsured debate heats up in the new Congress."

As to what the health insurance industry can do to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of care, 38 percent of consumers said they would like to see greater collaboration with doctors to improve access to effective drugs at reasonable prices, 31 percent said they would like to see partnerships with law enforcement to combat fraud and abuse, and 24 percent would like to see greater emphasis on care management through work with teams of healthcare professionals.

In a companion poll of 500 doctors conducted by Cooper Research on Nov. 3-4, 71 percent of physicians identified medical malpractice insurance and lawsuits as the leading factor driving up the cost of healthcare followed by the aging population (42 percent) and the cost of prescription drugs (42 percent), and the poor health habits of Americans (37 percent).

Overwhelmingly, 80 percent of the physicians believe medical malpractice reform should be the top healthcare priority of the Congress, followed by greater access to healthcare coverage and finding ways for Americans to lead healthier lifestyles (both at 43 percent).

"These polls show the healthcare challenges we face as a country. However, I am confident that through the collective efforts of the private and public sectors we can keep healthcare affordable by driving consistent quality of care, empowering consumers, increasing access to affordable prescription drugs, and fighting waste, fraud and abuse," said Serota.


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