More than half of US physicians support a single-payer health care system

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published September 13, 2017

Key Takeaways

The majority of United States physicians—56%—support a single-payer health care system, according to a new survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm based in Dallas, TX. However, 41% of physicians oppose such a system.

Survey responses from 1,033 physicians revealed:

  • 14% somewhat support a single-payer health care system
  • 42% strongly support it
  • 6% somewhat oppose it
  • 35% strongly oppose it
  • 3% neither support nor oppose it

These results have flip-flopped in the past decade. In 2008, a minority of physicians—42%—supported a single-payer system while 58% opposed it, according to a Merritt Hawkins survey conducted at that time.

“Physicians appear to have evolved on single payer,” said Travis Singleton, Senior Vice President of Merritt Hawkins. “Whether they are enthusiastic about it, are merely resigned to it, or are just seeking clarity, single payer is a concept many physicians appear to be embracing.”

There could be several reasons why more physicians embrace a single-payer health care system, explained Phillip Miller, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Merritt Hawkins.

“The fits and starts of health reform and the growing complexity of our current hybrid system are a daily strain on most doctors,” he said. “Many of them believe that a single-payer health care system will reduce the distractions and allow them to focus on what they have paid a high price to do: care for patients.”

Another reason: Younger doctors typically accept changes in health care more readily than older doctors. “As the new generation of physicians comes up, there is less resistance among doctors to single payer,” Miller said.

On a more pragmatic note, some physicians aren’t exactly enthusiastic about single payer—they’re merely resigned to it. “These physicians believe we are drifting toward single payer and would just as soon get it over with,” Miller explained. “The 14% of physicians surveyed who said they ‘somewhat support’ single payer are probably in this group.”

Miller also speculated that physicians, like many Americans, have had a philosophical change of heart about health care, such that “we should make an effort to cover as many people as possible.”

Indeed, the majority of Americans—51%—say that replacing the current health care system with a single-payer system in which Medicare covers every American citizen is a good idea, according to a national poll by Quinnipiac University. On the other hand, 38% of Americans oppose that idea.

“It is still a polarizing issue among physicians and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future,” Miller predicted.

At the time of this writing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is readying a single-payer health care bill referred to as “Medicare for All.” He is expected to introduce the bill into the Senate on September 13.

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