Poll reveals partisan divide among consumers on healthcare policy priorities

Many healthcare consumers want the federal government to control costs.

But they also have serious reservations about the typical levers policymakers would need to pull to do so. 

Morning Consult polled (PDF) more than 2,200 adults on behalf of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and found that 37% want the government to play a greater role in regulating the price of healthcare goods and services, while 21% believe the government should have more power to set healthcare prices. 

However, just 13% were in favor of increased Medicare taxes, raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 or reducing benefits required in Affordable Care Act plans—all key ways the government can achieve lower costs in that program. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center's Expert Panel on the Future of Health Care crafted a set of guiding principles for lawmakers to use in building future healthcare policy, including: 
  1. Everyone should have useful and affordable health insurance, whether through a public payer or a private insurer.
  2. Reforms should be built so as to avoid major disruptions to consumer access.
  3. Stable insurance markets are crucial. Policies must target "excessive and unnecessary" cost growth.
  4. Reforms must have long-term stability, both politically and financially. 

The split, experts said, reflects consumer frustration and misunderstanding of a complex, expensive and fragmented healthcare system, said Sheila Burke, a BPC fellow and strategic adviser at the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. 

"I think what we see in the mix of systems reflects that confusion," Burke said at an
event hosted by the center on Wednesday. 

RELATED: 'Problem Solvers Caucus' outlines bipartisan healthcare policy fixes lieu of ACA repeal 

Burke was one of 10 people recruited by BCP for its Expert Panel on the Future of Health Care, which aims to build a bipartisan framework that legislators can use to build future healthcare policy. Other members include former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt and former Senate majority leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist. 

The poll results are another element the panel members said legislators can use when taking aim at healthcare reform. 

The respondents were also divided by political party, and the survey found a notable split in what people on each side of the aisle view as healthcare reform priorities. Close to half (43%) of Democrats said that ensuring everyone has access to insurance is a main priority, compared to 14% of Republicans. 

Meanwhile, 25% of Republicans said Congress should focus on lowering premiums, and 24% said it should look at ways to reduce the role of government in healthcare. Just 13% and 5% of Democrats, respectively, said the same. 

RELATED: Healthcare executives call for bipartisan health reform 

Daschle said at the event that while the panel's focus was on federal reform, the real energy to address healthcare reform may be at the state level. As the federal government flounders on healthcare, states are likely to step in and innovate, he said.

"The more dysfunctional Washington is, the more states pick up the slack," he said.

The federal government should set guardrails and guidelines for that state innovation, though, Daschle said.