Most Americans don't know about Health Savings Accounts

A new nationally representative poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation examines what the public took away from President Bush's State of the Union address, finding that the health messages in the speech have yet to register with most Americans.

Forty-one percent of people say they watched or listened to the speech, and the President’s emphasis on health care costs in the health portions of the speech came through to almost half of them. But almost half of those who heard the address incorrectly thought that the President talked about the implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Despite extensive news coverage before and after the speech about the President’s proposals for expanding the use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), the poll suggests a steep learning curve for the public on these new insurance arrangements.  Seven out of 10 people (71%) say they have not heard of the term "health savings account" or do not know what the term means. When presented with three possible definitions, 38% correctly identified a description of the accounts as allowing people to set aside tax-free dollars to pay for routine health costs not covered by high-deductible insurance plans.

The President’s discussion of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic went largely unnoticed by a substantial majority of the public.  When asked if the President emphasized the HIV epidemic in the United States, 88% of people said he did not or they didn’t know if he had. Even among those who report watching or listening to the State of the Union address, 77% did not realize he had talked about this topic. About nine out of 10 people did not know that the President proposed reforming and reauthorizing the Ryan White CARE Act (which provides funding for HIV/AIDS care and prevention), ending waiting lists for HIV drugs or increasing HIV testing through African-American faith based organizations in his speech.

More than half (52%) of all Americans said they learned the most about what the President said about health care from pundits or news reports, suggesting that what people have heard or read about the speech may shape their views even more than the speech itself.

The poll was conducted February 2-7, 2006 as part of the Foundation’s bi-monthly Health Poll Report survey, with a nationally representative sample of 1,203 adults age 18 and older.  The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points. Toplines and chartpack are now available online.

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