Americans have mixed assessments of the overall value of medical treatments today, even though a strong majority say science has generally improved the quality of health care in the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. At the same time, a substantial majority consider quality healthcare to be unaffordable.
Overall, 48% of American adults say medical treatments are “worth it because they allow people to live longer, better lives,” while a similar proportion (51%) say medical treatments “ often create as many problems as they solve.
The survey also reveals that 90% of Americans think science has had a mostly positive effect on the quality of health care. This is in line with a 2016 Pew Research Center report, which found that of the 67% of Americans who said science had a primarily positive effect on society, the largest share (59%) in an open question, cited the effect of science on medicine and health as the main reason.
While Americans are sharply divided in their opinions on the overall value of medical treatment, a majority of Americans (83%) regardless of income say a big problem is that the high cost of medical treatment makes unaffordable quality care. Only 14% say cost is a small issue and 3% say it is not an issue.
About seven in ten (68%) say it’s a big problem that “people rely too much on prescription drugs that may not be needed.” Some 59% say a big problem is that the side effects of prescription drugs create as many problems as they solve.
About half of Americans (49%) say the slow pace of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments is a big problem. Some 46% say a big problem is that healthcare providers are too quick to order potentially unnecessary tests and procedures, 44% cite new treatments becoming available before we fully understand their effects, and 42% say new treatments are so complex that patients can’t make informed decisions.
As Americans weigh potential health care issues, most demographic and political groups are sharply divided on whether medical treatments are worth the cost because they allow people to live longer, healthier lives. quality, or whether medical treatments often create as many problems as they solve.
For example, roughly equal shares of Republicans and Democrats (47% and 50%, respectively, including independents who lean towards each party) say medical treatments these days are worth the cost because they allow a life longer and of better quality.
But higher-income Americans are more likely than lower-income Americans to say medical treatments are “worth the cost.” A majority of 62% of those with a household income of at least $100,000 a year say medical treatment is worth the cost. Among those with an annual family income of less than $30,000, 57% say medical treatments “create as many problems as they solve.”
The findings come amid ongoing political debates over how to ensure access to quality health care, medicines and new treatments for people with cancer and other serious illnesses.
Despite political divisions over government health insurance policies, Democrats and Republicans largely agree on which aspects of medical treatment pose the most problems. For example, about eight in ten Republicans and independents (81%) who lean toward the GOP consider the cost of quality medical care to be a big issue, as do 85% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
Opinions on whether the cost of medical treatment is a big deal also tend to be similar across age, race and ethnicity, family income, and education groups. But on some of the other possible problems with medical treatments, there are differences. For example, 55% of those with incomes below $30,000 say it’s a big deal that new treatments become available before we fully understand how they affect people’s health, compared to 27% of those whose income is at least $100,000 who say the same thing. A larger proportion of blacks (57%) and Hispanics (60%) than whites (38%) say it’s a big deal. Additionally, half of women (50%) say it’s a big deal that new treatments become available before we fully understand how they affect people’s health, compared to 38% of men who say the same .
Note: See key results and methodology here.
Marc Strauss is a former science and society writer/editor at the Pew Research Center.