Health care spending competes with other household spending, a fact we talk about a lot in Health Populi. For 2 in 5 Americans in this holiday season, the recession is forcing them to spend less on gifts.
Only one in 5 Americans say their spending will be the same as in the last holiday season.

For the majority of Americans, holiday spending declines are attributable to the cost of gas and household goods, recession fears, worries about job loss, and, yes, health care costs.

This is especially true for women, those without health insurance and, not surprisingly, those with household incomes under $50,000.

These insights come from the Misericordia University Healthcare Survey which was conducted among 1,008 Americans in November 2009.

The survey asked the question whether Americans would spend less this holiday season due to “rising healthcare costs.” 40% of respondents agreed with that statement.

Several other findings stand out:

1. While nearly all Americans say they’re satisfied with their health insurance coverage, only 3 in 5 take advantage of all the preventive tests covered by their insurance. Wealthier and older plan members take more advantage of preventive tests than younger, less affluent enrollees.

2. Most Americans who follow the health care debate are frustrated or annoyed with it. One-half of Americans are frustrated by the debate and 2 in 5 (41%) feel annoyed. 30% say the debate makes them angry.

3. There’s not a whole lot of trust for health reform information beyond friends and family. 56% trust family as a source for health reform and 51% trust doctors. The next most trusted source is President Obama himself, with 38% of Americans trusting him as a source for health reform insights. Media have lower trust levels: 31% trust cable news, 28% trust national news, 20% trust newspapers, and only 12% trust websites. Religious leaders, trusted by 23% of Americans, are nearly as trusted for information about health reform as national news organizations at 28%.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: One of the important disconnects identified in the survey is that, notwithstanding the fact that Americans identify health care costs as a major budget buster, 40% of Americans with insurance do not take advantage of preventive tests covered by their health plans.

Since the study was convened by Misericordia University, I’ll talk about the blessing that is health insurance. Americans who still receive health insurance from their employers are truly blessed not just this holiday season, but year ’round. Taking advantage of all a health plan offers is a health-literate thing to do. It’s also smart household economics.

When it comes to trust, it’s also important to see that nearly as high a proportion of Americans trust their religious leaders on the issues of health reform as they do national newspapers.

That a plurality of Americans says thinking about health reform makes them angry or annoyed is cause for reflection. Given that context, perhaps it makes sense one would turn to a religious leader for counsel on the topic of health reform.

Still, building back trust between the populus and independent-thinking third party organizations, whether news purveyors or non-profit associations like the AARP, is something that these organizations will need to earn from health citizens in the new era of health engagement.