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Comprehensive Study of Americans’ Attitudes on Health Care Uncovers Deep Concern About Costs, Candidate Proposals and the Opioid Epidemic

The Physicians Foundation today released its biennial Survey of America’s Patients, revealing the biggest hurdles facing Americans today in our country’s expensive and hard to navigate health care system. One year out from the 2020 presidential election, the survey finds that health care costs weigh heavily on Americans’ minds and that current presidential candidates are unclear about what patients want. Specifically, 73% of Americans are concerned about their ability to pay for an unexpected medical treatment and an overwhelming number (77%) are confused about what a single-payer system means. Sadly, the research also shows the opioid epidemic is a daily crisis for too many Americans with more than one-third knowing someone who has abused or is addicted to opioids.

“The Physicians Foundation’s survey is meant to be a comprehensive look at patients’ views on multiple aspects of our health care system; however, it’s clear that costs, policy issues and the opioid epidemic are areas of concern,” noted Gary Price, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation. “The survey also shows that patients want their physicians to assume greater leadership roles in advocating for solutions to these pressing issues.”

The survey found that the rise in what patients pay for medical care is causing significant financial concern with nearly half (42%) of Americans only being able to afford $500 or less in unexpected medical expenses before facing financial issues.

To make matters worse, 84% of patients are concerned that health care costs will affect them in the future. When thinking of their care, most patients associate cost (86%) and waiting on insurance preapprovals (72%) as negatively impacting their care. As far as what contributes to the rising cost of care, Americans are blaming the cost of prescription drugs (62%) and hospital costs (49%).

With the presidential primaries underway, the current political discussion about health care is confusing to patients. In fact, nearly one in four Americans (22%) are not sure exactly what “single payer health care” means, while 77% cannot agree on one definition. With confusion swirling around the term, the majority (55%) of Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate who advocates for expanding private insurance reforms.

When it comes to the opioid epidemic, the survey shows that this continues to be a serious public health emergency impacting millions of Americans. Shockingly, 35% of Americans know someone who has abused or is addicted to opioids and 21% know someone who has died because of opioid use. Patients blame pharmaceutical companies (53%) and physicians (39%) for their role in causing the epidemic even though data from the 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians found that 69% of physicians are prescribing fewer pain medications.

With the opioid epidemic top of mind, 60% of Americans believe rehabilitative services are essential health care, while 45% believe care for substance abuse is essential. A majority (69%) believe that care for mental health disorders is essential.

“It is clear, now more than ever, patients need our support. They need direct and open communication about the very real issues facing them today,” said Dr. Price. “From costs, to the impending presidential election and the opioid epidemic, it’s time our health care system takes into account the patient voice if we hope to move the needle on health care reform. More than ever, physicians need to show critical leadership on these issues.”

Physician Leadership
Nearly all (91%) Americans believe physicians should have the ability to significantly influence the health care system; while 71% feel that the ultimate decisions about their health care should be made in collaboration with their physician. Further, 94% of Americans agree that the physician should be allowed to overrule the health insurance company and 93% believe the physician’s opinion should outweigh the insurance company’s opinion when it comes to health care.

“Patients want us as their advocates and believe physicians should have a great deal of influence on our health care system because we have patients’ best interests at heart,” said Dr. Price. “We cannot sit idly by as our patients are negatively impacted by ill-informed policy reform. The physician-patient relationship should be at the forefront of our health care system with the goal of driving down costs while improving the delivery of high-quality care for all people.”

Additional findings from the 2019 Survey of America’s Patients include:

  • 92% of patients are satisfied with the relationship they have with their primary care physician.
  • 65% of Americans say the time physicians spend with patients is limited, with 22% saying it’s always limited.
  • 63% of Americans believe physicians have the ability to significantly influence the health care system.
  • 73% of Americans say poverty, income inequality and inadequate social services are a significant reason for America’s high health care spending.
  • 77% of Americans believe hospitals, clinics and doctors should look beyond their patients’ medical needs to see if causes such as food issues, transportation issues and housing concerns are interfering with health issues.

For a complete breakdown of the survey and its results, click here.


About The Physicians Foundation
The Physicians Foundation is a nonprofit seeking to advance the work of practicing physicians and help them facilitate the delivery of high-quality health care to patients. As the health care system in America continues to evolve, The Physicians Foundation is steadfast in its determination to strengthen the physician-patient relationship and assist physicians in sustaining their medical practices in today’s practice environment.

It pursues its mission through a variety of activities including grant-making, research, white papers and policy studies. Since 2005, the Foundation has awarded numerous multi-year grants totaling more than $50 million. In addition, the Foundation focuses on the following core areas: physician leadership, physician wellness, physician practice trends, social determinants of health and the impact of health care reform on physicians and patients.

The Physicians Foundation was founded in 2003 through the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by physicians and state medical associations against private third-party payers. Its Board of Directors is comprised of physician and medical society leaders from around the country. Additional information about The Physicians Foundation can be accessed at

About Regina Corso Consulting
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Survey Methodology
The Physicians Foundation’s 2019 Survey of America’s Patients was disseminated online to adults between September 4 and 13, 2019. This sample reflects the population of Americans as a whole based on age, gender and region and is reflective of the population as based on U.S. Census data. The survey included 32 separate questions and the survey took approximately 14 minutes to complete. Because the sample is based on those who have agreed to participate in surveys, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated.  Total number of Americans surveyed was 2,001. A total of 993 were between ages 27 and 75 and have seen the same doctor more than once in the past 12 months. Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding or because multiple responses were allowed.

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