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Patient Network Group Says Majority of Members Want To Keep Obamacare

Xconomy Boston — 

A U.S. patient networking group called PatientsLikeMe has dipped its toe in the waters of public opinion, asking its members what they think of the healthcare policy fight. There are many caveats, but the numbers trend in the same direction that other national polls have found—a shift towards more acceptance of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, since Republicans began their attempts to dismantle the law.

The study is the second run since January by Cambridge, MA-based PatientsLikeMe, a privately held, for-profit company with an online network of more than 500,000 patients with 2,700 chronic diseases. Sally Okun, the firm’s vice president of advocacy, policy, and patient safety says that PatientsLikeMe wasn’t paid to conduct these polls but felt compelled to do so because the national conversation around changes in healthcare policy wasn’t including “people for whom healthcare coverage is actually a critical day to day need, people who are sick.”

“We really wanted to amplify their voices in a way that gave them an opportunity to weigh in on what they felt needed to be a part of healthcare coverage,” Okun says.

The poll comes as Senate Republicans have been meeting in private to discuss their own version of a House bill, the American Health Care Act, which aims to replace Obamacare. The House version barely squeaked through the GOP-led chamber after a major false start. It would shrink Medicaid, the federal program providing financial assistance to the poor, which critics have described as a tax cut passed along to the wealthy. The House version would also give states waivers to opt out of protections that bar insurers from denying coverage or jacking up prices for patients with pre-existing conditions, like cancer or high blood pressure. (Insurers had been allowed to deny or charge higher rates to these patients before the ACA became law.)

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House plan would kick 23 million people off of health insurance by 2026.

PatientsLikeMe polled 2,755 patients living with chronic conditions in 50 states between May 4 and May 9. These patients are an average of 55.1 years old and have diseases like Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, or major depressive disorder. Roughly 37 percent are covered through Medicare, the government healthcare program for the elderly; 34 percent have employer-based insurance; and the rest had a mix Medicaid coverage, insurance through one of the ACA’s exchanges, or other coverage.

As for political affiliation: 34 percent of participants reported as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans, and 20 percent as independent. The rest either didn’t disclose, were unaffiliated with both parties, or were Libertarian. Patients were given a 25-question survey on issues such as: their opinion of the ACA; whether it should be repealed; whether they want their state to opt out of protections afforded by the ACA; and what basic health plans should or shouldn’t cover.

Some key points:

—54 percent of patients don’t want the ACA repealed, while 17 percent find repealing it a top priority.

—56 percent of responders think the ACA only needs minor modifications, compared to 23 percent who believe it needs a major overhaul.

—Large majorities of responders strongly agree plans that provide “essential help” should cover pre-existing conditions (88 percent); some costs of prescribed drugs (81 percent); mental health conditions (81 percent); pregnancy care (79 percent); preventative care (86 percent); major medical expenses such as hospitalizations or surgeries (88 percent); and that the plans shouldn’t have lifetime caps (73 percent).

PatientsLikeMe ran an earlier 2,197-patient study in January asking these and other questions. The newer poll “has reinforced the desire of patients to have something that really covers the basic elements of just good care,” Okun says. “They’re really not asking for a lot.”

Republicans and Democrats remain divided on Obamacare, and patients’ positions in the PatientsLikeMe poll fell largely along party lines. But between January and May, Okun says, positions have … Next Page »

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