Americans Again Cite Cost and Access as Top Health Issues

Americans Again Cite Cost and Access as Top Health Issues
by Rebecca Riffkin

Story Highlights

  • Forty-two percent name either healthcare cost or access
  • At least 14% of Americans cite cancer, obesity
  • 17% named Ebola last year, versus less than 1% in 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans continue to name the cost of (22%) and access to (20%) healthcare as the most urgent health problems facing the U.S. Obesity and cancer are next on the list, cited by 15% and 14%, respectively. No other issue receives more than 2% of mentions from Americans.

Trend: Cost and Access Remain Most Commonly Named as Urgent Health Problems

Gallup has asked Americans every November since 2001, and periodically before that, to name the most urgent health problem facing the U.S. Cost of and access to healthcare have generally topped the list since the early 2000s, while Americans most frequently mentioned diseases such as cancer and AIDS in the 1990s and in Gallup's one survey in the 1980s.

Other health issues have appeared near the top of the list over the past 15 years, including last year, when Ebola was listed among the top three health concerns. This was most likely in response to multiple Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and a few confirmed cases in the U.S., which prompted widespread media coverage of the disease. This year, less than 0.5% of Americans listed Ebola as the most urgent issue, as the threat of the virus has subsided in both the U.S. and West Africa. Similar short-lived spikes in the responses to this question have occurred regarding other recent health threats, including the H1N1/swine flu outbreak in 2009 and anthrax and bioterrorism attacks in 2001.

Mentions of the cost of healthcare jumped to 30% in 1992, possibly in response to Bill Clinton's making healthcare cost a major campaign issue; however, AIDS was the most-cited health problem that year, with 41% naming it. Mentions of cost and access increased again at the start of the new millennium, underscoring the degree to which Americans have become as concerned or more concerned with healthcare basics than specific diseases in recent years. From 2007 until 2013, Americans were more likely to name access than cost, but since 2013, cost has surpassed access as the most frequently cited urgent health problem.

The Cost of and Access to Healthcare: 1987-2015

Gallup has found no significant changes in mentions of cost and access since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. While far fewer Americans lack insurance today than in 2013, one in five Americans still name access to healthcare or cost as the most urgent health problem.

Obesity, Cancer Most Frequently Named Diseases

Americans are more likely to name obesity or cancer as the most urgent problem facing the U.S. than other illnesses and diseases, including the flu, AIDS and heart disease. While mentions of cancer were near 20% in the early 2000s, they have dropped since then and have remained at 15% or less over the last decade.

Mentions of obesity increased from 1% in 1999 to as high as 16% in 2012. They dropped slightly last year, perhaps because Americans were more concerned with Ebola, but have increased again slightly in 2015, to 15%. Gallup and Healthways found that the obesity rate among U.S. adults reached 27.7% in 2014, the highest rate in seven years of tracking it.

Mentions of Obesity and Cancer as the Most Urgent Health Problem Since 1999

Bottom Line

Americans continue to be most likely to name healthcare access or cost as the most urgent health issues facing the U.S., surpassing physical health ailments. In the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS was the dominant issue, and cancer ranked no lower than second from 1999 to 2002.

The Obama administration has made a major effort to address healthcare cost and access by passing the Affordable Care Act. Since its major provisions went into effect, there has been a drop in the percentage of Americans who lack health insurance. But the law probably did not affect the healthcare situation for the large majority of Americans, most of whom get health insurance through an employer or Medicare. The percentages mentioning both cost and access are down from the later years of George W. Bush's administration, even though they remain the top overall issues.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-8, 2015, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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