More MS news articles for February 2001

Americans Worry About Chronic Illness, Look to Congress for Help

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Feb 26 - A clear majority of Americans are concerned about the quality of care the chronically ill are receiving and support federal action to help chronically ill individuals get the care they need, according to results from a Harris Interactive survey released Monday.

Seventy-two percent of Americans believe that people with chronic conditions have difficulty getting necessary care from their healthcare providers, and 74% say that it is difficult for the chronically ill to obtain prescription drugs, according to the survey of 1663 adults.

The survey, which was sponsored by Partnership for Solutions, also found that more than three quarters of respondents believe it is difficult for the chronically ill to find adequate health insurance or to get help from their own family.

In the year 2000, 125 million Americans, or 45% of the US population, lived with at least one chronic condition. "That's 20 million more than projected 5 years ago," Dr. Gerard F. Anderson said at a press conference here. Dr. Anderson is national program director for the Partnership and professor of health policy, management and international health at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health.

Moreover, the number of chronically ill Americans is expected to rise to 157 million, or half the US population, by 2020, Dr. Anderson said. He added that the cost of caring for the chronically ill will jump from $500 billion, or 75% of US healthcare spending, in 2000 to $1 trillion, or 80% of overall spending, by 2020.

"This is a wake-up call," Dr. Anderson said. "Those people with chronic conditions need a helping hand." The needs of the chronically ill vary, he pointed out, from assistance for dressing, bathing or transportation to financial help to learning about the existence of government programs they can tap.

An "enormous gulf" exists between what the chronically ill need and what is provided for them, said Dr. Lewis Sandy, executive vice president of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "[This issue] challenges us medically, economically and organizationally."

The survey showed that a large majority of Americans want Congress to address the problems that the chronically ill and their caregivers face. According to the Harris survey, 92% of respondents favor government-funded long-term care insurance, 85% support tax relief for those buying private long-term care insurance, 92% support a tax break for family, friends and others who act as caregivers, and 94% want Congress to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

Other findings of the survey revealed that two thirds of Americans without a chronic health conditions believe that they will develop such a condition during their lifetime, 45% of those with a chronic condition feel the costs of their care are a financial burden, and 22% of the chronically ill who have insurance report that their coverage is inadequate.

"This is a systems problem and the systems must adapt and evolve," Dr. Sandy said.

The Partnership for Solutions is a newly launched initiative to raise the awareness of the challenges faced by Americans with chronic conditions and help policymakers with possible solutions. The initiative, which also conducts research, is led by Johns Hopkins University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Copyright © 2000 Reuters Ltd.