Most in Massachusetts want state push on health costs

Reuters News

10/21/2011 4:49:09 PM - Reuters News

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - A vast majority of Massachusetts residents want action to lower health care costs, and many see the state government as best positioned to do it, according to a new survey released on Friday.

The poll, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health for the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, showed 53 percent of residents see the high cost of health care as a major problem. Another 25 percent regard the issue as a crisis.

"Healthcare costs are chewing up more and more of people's incomes," Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of the group Health Care for All, said at a panel to discuss the findings of the survey.

Almost nine in 10 said the state government should take unspecified "major action" to address rising costs.

"There is clear, overwhelming and bipartisan support to control health care costs in Massachusetts," said Nancy Turnbull, associate dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Still, only about half of the respondents (48 percent) said they were confident the state government could take measures that would reduce future healthcare costs, with Democrats more confident than Republicans on that score.

"People ... support government taking big action, but are skeptical that it's going to work," said Robert Blendon, professor of social policy at HSPS, the report's lead author.

Massachusetts has almost universal healthcare insurance coverage under legislation driven by Mitt Romney when he was governor. He is now seeking the Republican nomination for president.

The 2006 law, popular in the state, has drawn criticism from Romney's Republican opponents because of its similarity to President Barack Obama's signature 2010 health legislation.

But the Massachusetts law did little to address spiraling costs. That effort is now underway in the state legislature and by the current governor, Democrat Deval Patrick.

Asked the major reason why health care costs are so high, survey residents mostly cited drug companies and insurance companies charging too much money.

Other significant factors were said to be waste and fraud in the health care system, hospitals charging too much, and people not taking good care of their health.

The survey showed the public thinks government, insurers, hospitals and doctors all need to be involved in solving the healthcare cost problem. Only 3 percent said employers should take a large role.

Some 1,000 state residents were randomly selected and interviewed in September.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Jerry Norton)