Consumers and physicians see eye to eye on why healthcare costs are increasing and how to solve the problem

Houston-based Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute conducted a survey of more than 9,000 consumers and 450 doctors to unveil their perceptions of health insurance, healthcare costs and more.

Over the summer, the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute surveyed more than 450 physicians nationwide and over 9,000 consumers in 15 states (five red, five blue and five swing states).

The results show a variety of trends as far as what both groups think about health insurance, healthcare costs and potential solutions to reducing rising fees.

According to the survey, consumers clearly care about health insurance. Ninety-eight percent consider it important to them and their families.

But the cost of obtaining insurance is weighing them down. Forty-nine percent of consumers said they had to cut other expenses to pay for healthcare. And the things they’re slashing out of their budgets aren’t minor. Those surveyed said they’re cutting back on savings and reducing spending on food and clothes to fund healthcare costs.

What’s more, most consumers noted that they can only afford to spend about 2 percent of their income on healthcare. Through the Affordable Care Act, people have to have health insurance or risk paying a penalty. They’re exempt from the penalty if coverage isn’t considered “affordable.” But the ACA only considers coverage “affordable” if it doesn’t cost more than 8.2 percent of income, according to the survey.

“The surprise is how unaffordable [health insurance] is, and that it’s so different from what the ACA thought was affordable,” Arthur “Tim” Garson, director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute, said in a recent phone interview.

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As far as the cause of the high healthcare expenses, consumers and physicians agree. Both groups cite insurers, drug manufacturers and device manufacturers as the reason behind the increases.

Twenty-eight percent of consumers and 47 percent of physicians blamed health insurers, while 30 percent of consumers and 19 percent of physicians blamed drug and device manufacturers.

Few respondents from either group blamed physicians or hospitals.

This, Garson said, is because it’s easier to blame a faceless entity like insurers or drug makers.

Both consumers and physicians also agreed about how to decrease healthcare expenses.

Twenty-eight percent of consumers and 40 percent of physicians think costs should increase for smokers and obese individuals through higher health insurance prices and taxes on fatty foods. Another 23 percent of consumers and 23 percent of physicians believe creating affordable catastrophic healthcare plans would lower costs.

The survey also pointed to other cost reduction strategies, such as salarying physicians rather than paying them on a fee-for-service basis. And indeed, many physicians would prefer that model.

“Sixty-nine percent of physicians said they’d like to be paid by salary and not with very high incentives, either,” Garson said.

Photo: Meriel Jane Waissman, Getty Images