A model of factors determining levels of public support for health care policy in the United States

Carol A Galeener, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Public preferences for policy are formed in a little-understood process that is not adequately described by traditional economic theory of choice. In this paper I suggest that U.S. aggregate support for health reform can be modeled as tradeoffs among a small number of behavioral values and the stage of policy development. The theory underlying the model is based on Samuelson, et al.'s (1986) work and Wilke's (1991) elaboration of it as the Greed/Efficiency/Fairness (GEF) hypothesis of motivation in the management of resource dilemmas, and behavioral economics informed by Kahneman and Thaler's prospect theory. The model developed in this paper employs ordered probit econometric techniques applied to data derived from U.S. polls taken from 1990 to mid-2003 that measured support for health reform proposals. Outcome data are four-tiered Likert counts; independent variables are dummies representing the presence or absence of operationalizations of each behavioral variable, along with an integer representing policy process stage. Marginal effects of each independent variable predict how support levels change on triggering that variable. Model estimation results indicate a vanishingly small likelihood that all coefficients are zero and all variables have signs expected from model theory. Three hypotheses were tested: support will drain from health reform policy as it becomes increasingly well-articulated and approaches enactment; reforms appealing to fairness through universal health coverage will enjoy a higher degree of support than those targeted more narrowly; health reforms calling for government operation of the health finance system will achieve lower support than those that do not. Model results support the first and last hypotheses. Contrary to expectations, universal health care proposals did not provide incremental support beyond those targeted to “deserving” populations—children, elderly, working families. In addition, loss of autonomy (e.g. restrictions on choice of care giver) is found to be the “third rail” of health reform with significantly-reduced support. When applied to a hypothetical health reform in which an employer-mandated Medical Savings Account policy is the centerpiece, the model predicts support that may be insufficient to enactment. These results indicate that the method developed in the paper may prove valuable to health policy designers.

Subject Area

Public health|Economic theory|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Galeener, Carol A, "A model of factors determining levels of public support for health care policy in the United States" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3143615.