Do Americans Believe Health Care is the Government’s Responsibility?


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President Barack Obama’s signature health care law has created a lot of grief for a lot of people. Not least of this throng of injured parties is Obama himself — his time in office and relationship with Republicans has certainly seen some abuse as a result of the legislation. The Affordable Care Act has also been a living nightmare for Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress, Republicans because they’ve been unsuccessful in passing anything to cut it down, and Democrats because sometimes they’ve been unsuccessful in passing anything at all due to gridlock.

The unfortunate roll out of the website was a huge mess for the Obama administration, and the adjustment to new health care changes has hardly been easy on many American citizens either. But a recent poll from Gallup reveals what is perhaps the greatest loss stemming from Obamacare.

According to the poll, there has been a pretty major shift in public opinion regarding government responsibility and health care. In 2006, 69% of respondents said they believed that it was the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that Americans were covered by health care. Only 28% disagreed, saying it was not the government’s responsibility to take on that role.

By 2009 the majorities had reversed, and those disagreeing gained 22% while those believing ensuring coverage was not the government’s responsibility dropped to 47%. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed on December 24, 2009, in the House of Representatives and on March 21, 2010, and then signed by President Obama soon after that. Looking at the graph of public opinion and the sudden reversal, shown below, it’s fairly clear that the two are probably related.


The relation is particularly clean when looking at partisan divide over the issue. Seventy percent of Democrats said it was the responsibility of government to ensure health care coverage for Americans, while 24% of Republicans said the same. On the other hand, 75% of Republicans said it was not the responsibility of the government, and 28% of Democrats agreed. Disapproval of the Affordable Care act or approval was fairly predictive of whether or not government was considered responsible for health coverage.

Obamacare may be imperfect; it may be controversial, but the fact of the matter is that universal health coverage is a vital and important step for America and other nations across the global community — and the fact of the matter is many nations do this most effectively through government. In fact the World Health Organization announced it might be on the post-2015 development agenda, in order to “ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.” That has not been and currently is not a reality in America. Whether you argue that Obamacare is universal health care as Obama does, or that it’s a failure on that effort, it’s imperfect like the rest of America’s health care system and needs reforming; something even the president is prepared to admit. So giving up on the need for health coverage, and taking away government involvement in that process is a misstep. 

According to Forbes, if you line America up next to 10 other developed nations, it’s at the very bottom. This ranking is based on data from the WHO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which looked at quality, access, efficiency, equity, healthy lives, and health expenditures. America fell below the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, France, and Canada. In 2000 the WHO itself published a ranking — which is admittedly outdated, and which has since become controversial enough that some would chose to dismiss it — in which America comes in 37th place, under everyone from Colombia, to Saudi Arabia, to Finland. Even setting that report aside for the moment because of its debatable accuracy, there are many reports that find the United State’s health care system to be more than just wanting. Not only has the U.S. health care system been deeply flawed for some time, and in the past most certainly not available to all citizens equally, it’s also incredibly expensive compared to other countries.

The OECD once stated that “the overall level of health spending in the United States is so high that public (government) spending on health per capita is still greater than in all other OECD countries, except Norway and the Netherlands,” according to the New York Times. For 2010, this meant $8,233 per person, which is over two times the amount you’d see in more economically successful countries like France or Britain. It’s also unfortunately fair to say that the amount spent is not resulting in a more healthy population of Americans. The U.S. is far from the healthiest nation comparatively.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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