Montana Viewpoint©


August 3, 2009

I see by the paper that some polls say that 84% of Americans with health insurance coverage are happy with their health care provisions. What I don’t see is polling data about how satisfied people without health care coverage are. Well, numbers don’t lie, but they sure get manipulated. If you can show me a statistic that supports your argument, I can find a statistic that destroys it. In fact, I don’t even have to find a statistic, I can deny your argument just by saying I don’t believe your statistic, so there. I rest my case.

And so do the people who oppose expanding health care insurance to everyone, because the easiest thing to do to prevent change in the political world is to cast doubt on the data; you can even do it with honest numbers, if you lean that way.

The fact of the matter is, that most Americans are happy with their health care and health care coverage, but a heck of a lot of them are a lot less satisfied with what they have to pay for it. More to the point, most Americans, as a matter of pure democratic principle, think that health care insurance should be made available to all. They are just a little bit reluctant to pay for it, and they are worried that if they don’t have to pay for it the quality of their insurance coverage will suffer in order to cover costs.

Then there are those who don’t want a faceless government bureaucrat making their medical decisions for them, but somehow are perfectly OK with having a faceless insurance company bureaucrat making them. I fail to see much difference. Then, too, there are those who are adamant in their belief that a government cannot run a health care insurance program effectively. This is kind of puzzling in light of the fact that almost half of Americans with health care coverage are covered by a government run insurance program—state, county, municipal and federal employees and retirees, for instance, including the 15% of our population on Medicare and the 2.5% who have Veterans Administration coverage. I mean, it seems it can be done.

There is a study on health care concerns, however, which I think you can take to the bank; it’s the 2009 Health Confidence Survey performed annually by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). EBRI is funded by business, banking, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, among others. That should make any tendency for bias in the report clear—except there doesn’t seem to be any bias. You can read the whole study (it's short) online at www.ebri.org, look for the "EBRI Issue Brief 2009" on the home page.

I do have a concern with the ambiguity of one response category, though. Respondents are given five choices: extremely satisfied, very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, not too satisfied and not at all satisfied. I think there is a tendency to include the “somewhat satisfied” choice as strictly a positive response, but since there is no corresponding “somewhat dissatisfied” category my personal preference is to treat it as a neutral response. (I know, now I’M playing with the data.) Still, even excluding that response 58% of those polled were extremely satisfied or very satisfied with their own plan, but only 21% of those polled felt the same about its affordability. And however happy they might be with their coverage, 65% think that the health care system we currently have requires major changes, and only 4% think it needs no change at all.

It’s an interesting study, easy to read and understand, and if this is what industry is looking at, we should, too.


Montana Viewpoint© is carried by 20 Montana weekly newspapers, including those in Helena and Billings, with a combined circulation of over 60,000.

Jim Elliott is a former state senator from Trout Creek. He served in the Montana House 1989 to 1996 and the Montana Senate from 2001 to 2008. Elliott has distributed his opinion column statewide since 1992. There is no charge for publication.

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-827-3671
Mail: 100 TC Road, Trout Creek, MT 59874