Physicians support single payer, but how strongly?

Survey: 42% of Physicians Strongly Support a Single Payer Healthcare System, 35% are Strongly Opposed

By Phillip Miller
Merritt Hawkins, August 14, 2017

A plurality of physicians strongly support a single payer healthcare system, according to a new survey by Merritt Hawkins.

The survey of 1,033 physicians indicates that 42 percent strongly support a single payer health care system while 14 percent are somewhat supportive. Over one-third (35 percent) strongly oppose a single payer system while six percent are somewhat against it. The remaining three percent neither support nor oppose single payer.

The results contrast with a national survey of physicians Merritt Hawkins conducted in 2008, which indicated that 58 percent of physicians opposed single payer at that time while 42 percent supported it.

In Merritt Hawkins’ experience, there are four reasons why a growing number of physicians are in favor of single payer. First, they are seeking clarity and stability. The fits and starts of health reform and the growing complexity of our current hybrid system are a daily strain on most doctors. Many of them believe that a single payer healthcare system will reduce the distractions and allow them to focus on what they have paid a high price to do: care for patients.

Second, it’s a generational issue. The various surveys that Merritt Hawkins has conducted for The Physicians Foundation in the past show that younger doctors are more accepting of Obamacare, ACOs, EHR, and change in general than are older physicians As the new generation of physicians comes up, there is less resistance among doctors to single payer.

Third, there is a feeling of resignation rather than enthusiasm among some physicians about single payer. These physicians believe we are drifting toward single payer and would just as soon get it over with. The 14% of physicians surveyed who said they "somewhat" support single payer are probably in this group.

Fourth, there is a philosophical change among physicians that I think the public and political leaders on both sides of the aisle now share, which is that we should make an effort to cover as many people as possible.

However, while single payer has gained acceptance among some physicians, it remains strongly opposed by over one third and strongly or somewhat opposed by over 40 percent. It is still a polarizing issue among physicians and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Phillip Miller is Vice President of Corporate Communications for Merritt Hawkins.


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

Kaiser Family Foundation

READ TO ALL: As you may know, the 2010 Affordable Care Act created health insurance exchanges or marketplaces where people who don't get coverage through their employers can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits.

Q12. Thinking about President Trump and Republicans’ next steps on health care, which of the following do you think is more important for them to work on now? Should they work on (READ LIST)? (rotate response options 1-2/2-1)

69% - Fixing the remaining problems with the Affordable Care Act in order to help the marketplaces work better

29% - Continuing plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act

2% - Something else (VOL.)

1% - Don’t know/Refused



By Don McCanne, M.D.

This Merritt Hawkins survey adds to the accumulated data that shows that a majority of physicians support a single payer system - 56 percent in this survey, with a 42 percent plurality strongly so. This demonstrates a significant increase in support compared to their last physician poll a decade ago.

Phillip Miller, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Merritt Hawkins, expresses the view that “there is a feeling of resignation rather than enthusiasm among some physicians about single payer.”

The current Kaiser Foundation Tracking Poll showed that, given a choice, 69 percent of the general public would prefer to fix “the remaining problems with the Affordable Care Act in order to help the marketplaces work better,” whereas 29 percent would prefer to continue plans “to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.” Only 2 percent volunteered “something else,” presumably including single payer. It appears that the current surge in support of single payer is not strong enough for those polled to voluntarily cite single payer as a preference to the options of either fixing ACA or repealing and replacing it.

Our physician colleagues and the public at large need to continue to hear our three messages until they become steadfast believers and activists for the cause: 1) In spite of the improvements, patching the Affordable Care Act will still leave us far short of an efficient, equitable, affordable health care system that is truly universal, 2) current repeal and replace proposals would make health care even less accessible and less affordable, and 3) single payer - an improved Medicare for all - would finally bring affordable care to absolutely everyone.

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