Public Supports Patient's Bill of Rights

by David W. Moore

More likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on issue, 44% to 34%

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans support a "patient's bill of rights" by a margin of better than five to one, although relatively few Americans have followed the issue closely and can say for sure what such a bill would entail. Even fewer say they are aware of the differences between the two major bills that were recently being considered by the U.S. Senate -- one sponsored and supported mostly by Republicans, and the other sponsored and supported mostly by Democrats. Still, the results of an open-ended question that asked respondents to describe what they would envision in a patient's bill of rights show that many Americans correctly expect that such a bill would provide consumers with more rights in their dealings with their health care providers. Americans also express moderately more trust in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party to deal with a patient's bill of rights.

The poll, conducted June 28-July 1, as the Senate was passing the Democratic version of the patient's bill of rights legislation (which will now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives), shows that just 36% of Americans say they have closely followed the news about this issue -- 7% saying "very closely" and 29% "somewhat closely." These results place the patient's bill of rights debate well below the average of other public policy issues in public attentiveness. In the same poll, for example, 65% of Americans say they have closely followed the news about the Ford and Firestone controversy, and 46% have closely followed the news about President Bush's energy plan.

When Americans were asked to describe what a patient's bill of rights means to them, 26% gave no response, while just 12% mentioned the most salient part of both bills considered by the Senate -- that patients would have the right to sue their health care insurer. Other comments, although less specific, are essentially correct -- 8% said a patient's bill of rights would give patients more of a voice in their own health care, and 2% said it would hold insurance companies more accountable for decisions that are made. But most of the other comments were more vague, referring to unspecified rights or protections for patients -- suggesting that most people have less than a precise grasp of what the bills before Congress would provide.

When you hear about a patient's bill of rights, what does that mean to you?[Open-ended]

 

 

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

 

%

   

Patient is allowed to sue/take legal action against provider

12

Rights of a patient/the rights a patient has (unspecified)

11

Provides for a person's right to medical care

10

Patient can choose own doctor/hospital

10

Gives patient a voice in their own healthcare

8

Rights regarding insurance/HMOs (unspecified)

5

Provides for protection of patients

3

Provides for patient confidentiality

3

Patient/doctor, not insurance company, would decide on care

2

Good idea/would make things better

2

Right of a patient to be kept informed

2

Holds doctors/insurance companies more accountable

2

Bad idea/would make things worse

2

Right of a patient to be treated fairly

1

Government interference would increase

1

Ensure fair costs are being charged

1

Places limits on amount a patient can sue

1

All patients treated equally

*

   

None

8

Other

3

No opinion

18

Total

105%^

   

* Less than 0.5%

 

^Adds to more than 100% due to multiple responses

 


Given the title -- a patient's bill of rights -- as well as the fact that political leaders of both major parties support some version of the legislation, it is not surprising that few Americans are opposed to it. The poll shows that 58% say they support Congress' passing such legislation, just 11% are opposed, while an unusually large number of Americans -- 31% -- express no opinion. Most of this last group are people who earlier indicated that they have paid little attention to the issue and are unsure what such legislation entails.

Older Americans are much more likely than younger groups to have followed the issue closely and to support congressional enactment of such legislation. As shown in the chart below, opposition to a patient's bill of rights varies within a narrow range of 9% to 15% among the age groups. Support, however, goes from 49% in the youngest age group to over 60% in the top two age groups, while the "no opinion" category shows a drop from 42% among the youngest to 24% among the oldest American adults.

Whether Congress Should Pass
a Patient's Bill of Rights

Compared by Age
June 28-July 1, 2001

The patient's bill of rights also generates differences among partisan groups, with Democrats expressing the most support -- by a 65% to 10% margin. Republicans also express majority support, but at a lower level -- with 52% favoring the legislation and 13% opposed. Independents are the most cautious, expressing better than a four-to-one margin in support, but still less than a majority -- 46% to 11%. They also have the highest number of "no opinion" responses.

As shown in the chart below, opposition is about the same among the three groups. Higher levels of support lead to lower levels of "no opinion," rather than to decreased opposition.

Whether Congress Should Pass
a Patient's Bill of Rights

Compared by Party
June 28-July 1, 2001

Differences Between Republican and Democratic Bills

Although both bills before the U.S. Senate called for a patient's right to sue the health care providers, the Democratic version generally allows for higher penalties and for lawsuits in state, as well as federal, courts. Only 5% of Americans indicate they have "a lot" of knowledge about the differences between the two versions, and another 23% say they know "a little" about the differences. That leaves over seven in 10 Americans unsure about what the differences are.

Still, when asked which party they would be more likely to trust in enacting a patient's bill of rights, the public favors Democrats over Republicans by a 10-point margin, 44% to 34%, with 22% expressing no preference.

These views are highly related to one's party affiliation, of course, as Democrats trust the leaders of their own party by 82% to 5%, and Republicans trust their own leaders by 71% to 9%. Independents, those who lean to neither party, prefer the Democrats by a 17-point margin, 23% to 6% -- with more than seven in 10 expressing no preference.

Preference for the Democratic Party's approach is also related to age. The youngest age group shows a slightly higher level of trust in the Democratic than Republican Party -- 42% to 38% -- and as age increases, the margin in favor of Democrats increases as well.

Which Party Americans Trust More
for Patient's Bill of Rights

Compared by Age
June 28-July 1, 2001

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with -- 1,014 -- national adults, aged 18+, conducted June 28-July 1, 2001. 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.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Recently there has been some discussion in the news about a patient's bill of rights. How closely have you been following the news about this -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

 

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely


Not at all

No
opinion

           

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

7%

29

29

34

1



Based on what you have heard or read, do you favor or oppose Congress passing a patient's bill of rights?

 

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

58%

11

31



There are two versions of a patient's bill of rights currently being considered in the Senate -- one sponsored mostly by Republicans, although with some Democratic support and one sponsored mostly by Democrats, although with some Republican support. How much would you say you know about the differences between the two approaches -- do you know a lot about the differences, a little about the differences, or are you unsure what the differences are?

 

 


A lot


A little

Unsure of differences

No
opinion

         

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

5%

23

66

6



Even if you don't know all of the details, in general, whose approach to a patient's bill of rights would you be more likely to trust -- [ROTATED: the Republicans' (or) the Democrats']?

 

 


Republicans' approach


Democrats' approach

NEITHER/BOTH (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

34%

44

12

10



(vol.) Volunteered response

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