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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Study: Income Should Be the Dominant Factor for Reforming Health Care Says the American Public

A study on reforming U.S. healthcare showed that Americans believe a health insurance policy should be about 4.9 percent of household income to be affordable — whether or not household income was low or high. They also feel that younger people—particularly singles—could pay somewhat more for health insurance and that healthier people could afford to pay more than those in poor health. Debt also played a role in decision-making for many respondents. Findings of the research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, are published on SocArXiv, a website for the rapid dissemination of science. The researchers chose this format because legislation is moving too fast to publish in a traditional health policy journal.

[Photo: Dr. Peter Muennig]

These findings stand in stark contrast to the health reform proposal forwarded by speaker Paul Ryan, which offered a fixed tax credit rather than one based upon household income and was rejected by legislators last month.

“Americans feel that everyone can afford to put about 5% of their household income toward health insurance and strongly favor a credit linked to the income that one makes,” said Dr. Peter Muennig, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School of Public Health. “They also do not favor placing extra burdens on the sick or elderly as the Ryancare plan did.”

Their findings were consistent whether a respondent lived in a red state or a blue state, suggesting that voters of all stripes feel that wealthier households can afford to pay a little more than lower-income households.

The researchers created 61 vignettes to describe the living situations of various hypothetical households based on age, household income, marital status, presence of children, health conditions, the presence of debt or savings, and housing costs. Where children were present, the researchers specified that they would receive free coverage through the State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) program. Respondents were asked to assess how much each household could afford to pay per month using two different health insurance plans, one representing the typical high deductible policy and one the typical comprehensive policy.

The ACA replacement plan that had been under consideration—“Ryancare”—would have transfered benefits from poorer households to wealthier households and from households in poor health to those in much better health, Dr. Muennig points out.

“Ryancare essentially took from the poor, the sick, and the elderly and gave that money to the rich, and people would not have been happy with the plan,” said Dr. Muennig. “Our findings were consistent whether the respondent lived in a red state or blue state. It made no difference.”

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.