Healthcare's Image Problem: Is It Incurable?

by Heather Mason Kiefer, Contributing Editor

Young adults, seniors more positive

The healthcare industry, with its chronic cost and availability problems, is no stranger to bad press. And high-profile lawsuits against companies such as HealthSouth Corp. -- whose former CEO was acquitted of criminal fraud charges in June, but still faces charges in several civil cases -- aren't doing much to improve the industry's image.

So it's not really surprising that the healthcare industry continues to receive dismal scores on Gallup's annual survey of the public's views of different business sectors*. This year's poll shows about a third (32%) of Americans express a positive view of the healthcare industry, while 50% have a negative view. The healthcare industry ranks near the bottom of the list of 25 industries tested with its net rating of -18 (the percentage rating it positively minus the percentage rating it negatively). Only the legal field and the oil and gas industry rank lower (see "Restaurants Highest-Rated Industry; Oil and Gas Lowest" in Related Items). Ratings of the healthcare industry have, for the most part, remained relatively stable since 2001.

Younger Americans, Seniors, and Conservatives More Positive

Aggregated data from the last two years** shows the youngest adults (18- to 29-year-olds) and oldest adults (aged 65 and older) are more willing than other Americans to think positively about the healthcare industry. Forty-six percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have a positive view of the healthcare industry, as do 38% of those 65 and older. In contrast, only 28% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 64 have a positive view. Younger Americans could have a more positive view because they are less likely than older Americans to seek healthcare, and seniors could be more positive because medical advances are helping to improve their quality of life.

Politically conservative Americans are slightly more positive about the healthcare industry than moderates or liberals. However, sentiment is negative among all three groups. Just 38% of conservatives are positive about the healthcare industry, compared with 29% of moderates and 33% of liberals.

Three major studies released last week in the New England Journal of Medicine show that blacks in the United States continue to receive inferior healthcare to whites, despite persistent efforts in recent years to narrow the race gap in healthcare. Even so, the Gallup survey shows whites and nonwhites give roughly the same low ratings to the healthcare industry. Thirty-three percent of whites rate the healthcare industry positively, as do 32% of nonwhites.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 497 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 8-11, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004, and Aug. 8-11, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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