Consumers Less Confident About Healthcare, Data Privacy, and Car Safety, New Survey Finds

CR’s second Consumer Voices Survey reflects a significant shift in Americans’ sentiment a few months into new administration

Consumer Pulse Sébastien Thibault

More Americans are pessimistic about their rights and protections as consumers than they were a few months ago just before a new Congress and the Trump administration assumed control in Washington.

That’s the finding of Consumer Reports’ second Consumer Voices Survey, conducted in April. Results from the nationally representative survey of 1,007 adults showed that consumers’ confidence has waned since the start of the year, particularly in how they feel about their access to quality healthcare, their data privacy, and the government’s ability to regulate the auto industry when it comes to safety.

More From the Survey

Consumer confidence dropped by at least 5 percentage points in each of those three areas since early January—a statistically significant change over a fairly short period of time. And in no area that we measured did consumers report feeling significantly better than in the past.

“This latest CR Consumer Voices Survey suggests an alarming erosion of people's trust in how well the government will look after their interests,” says Marta L. Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports. "Consumers hold tremendous power to shape the world through their voices and choices—and CR will continue our work to equip people to be better heard by those who serve them.”

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When asked directly whether they trust the government to look out for their interests as consumers, nearly two-thirds of Americans answered “No” in the new survey. That’s unchanged from January.

Consumer Reports developed the Consumer Voices Survey to better understand which issues are most on consumers’ minds—and to measure how changes to key laws, policies, and regulations affect consumer confidence around those issues. The survey will be repeated and expanded upon in the months and years to come, depending on what’s happening in the consumer landscape.

Those polled in the most recent telephone survey are representative of the country at large by age, income, gender, geography, self-reported political affiliation, and other demographics. It was conducted April 6 to 9, as debate around efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was covered heavily in the news but before the House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace the healthcare law with a new GOP-supported bill last Thursday. (More on this later.)

Read More About Healthcare, Privacy, and Car Safety

As with our first survey, people were asked what their biggest concern is right now as consumers. Healthcare issues were most often cited in both surveys—mentioned by nearly a quarter of respondents in our latest one. Indeed, more people—41 percent now compared with 35 percent in January—lack confidence about having access to good healthcare.

One full-time worker from the South, a woman in her 70s, said she was most concerned “about the health insurance we’re going to have. I’m just hoping they’ll fix it, so everybody will be able to afford it, the rich and the poor,” she said.

The biggest change between CR’s January and April survey was in the percentage of Americans who lack confidence that “the government will hold the auto industry accountable to high standards of safety and transparency,” which jumped to 45 percent of respondents in April from 38 percent in January.

Those results make sense to Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. “It's no surprise you're seeing skepticism about how strong the administration will be in enforcing fuel-economy or safety regulations,” Gillis says, adding that despite campaign promises to stand up for consumers over corporate interests, President Donald Trump has filled his administration with many former lobbyists.

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Other significant movement on individual questions involved Americans’ shrinking confidence that their “online information is private and secure.” Some 70 percent now say they are slightly or not at all confident, vs. 65 percent in our last survey.

The new Consumer Voices Survey repeated the same dozen or so questions it posed in January and also raised a handful of fresh questions regarding data security, healthcare coverage and access, food safety, and tax reform. Many of these are issues where deep changes to regulations and policies are currently being proposed and discussed in Congress and by the administration.

Bipartisan Concerns on Healthcare

One of the most striking findings came from one of our new questions: When asked whether the government should help “make sure that everyone has access to affordable, quality healthcare,” 78 percent of Americans said “Yes.” Almost all Democrats answered that way; so did 80 percent of Independents and more than half of Republicans (56 percent).

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Overall, more than half of Americans (57 percent) lack confidence that they and their loved ones will have access to affordable health insurance. But since January, more Republicans have changed their thinking on that question, with 47 percent of them now voicing concerns, compared with 42 percent several months ago.

It’s no wonder concern is growing for everyone, says Chris Sloan, a senior manager at the healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health. Healthcare is complicated, he says. “You hear talk about individual markets, Medicaid, and high risk pools. People are wondering what applies to them. When they hear that 24 million people might lose their coverage, they get worried whether that will happen to them.”

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If passed, the new healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act, is expected to bring about significant changes for American consumers.

As written, the AHCA will effectively eliminate coverage under the Medicaid expansion and raise premiums of people in their 50s and 60s, according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of the new bill. It allows state-by-state control over what benefits are covered and lets insurers price coverage based on a consumer's medical condition, which is expected to result in sharply higher premiums for millions of Americans. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to undergo more changes.

Distrust About Data Privacy

There was even wider agreement from consumers across political party lines about their concern over digital privacy. An overwhelming majority—92 percent of Americans—say internet companies and websites should be required to get their permission before selling or sharing their data with other companies. And the same percentage believe internet companies and websites should be required to provide consumers with a complete list of the data they’ve collected about them, if asked.

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A full-time worker from the western part of the country made clear the opposing forces at stake online: “Do we want to make money, or look out for the privacy of people?” said the man, 20, who identified himself as independent.

The survey was conducted a few days after Congress passed a resolution, which Trump signed, undoing the FCC’s new broadband privacy rules that would have limited the ability of internet service providers to profit from using consumers’ personal information.

Consumer Reports recently launched a new initiative to develop a standard by which the organization and others can begin evaluating products and services for privacy and data security.

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Beyond privacy, consumers also expressed concerns in our latest survey about fairness and safety in the marketplace when it comes to data mining and online shopping.

For example, about two-thirds objected to the emerging online practice of “dynamic pricing,” whereby the same goods or services, such as airline tickets, are sold at different prices depending on factors such as the consumer’s income, home address, age, credit rating, browsing history, and other personal information. The new survey shows that a majority of Americans are uncomfortable with the practice.

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The opinions of Americans are changing because they're learning more about how data collection works, says Ellison Anne Williams, CEO and founder of the cybersecurity startup Enveil and a former senior researcher for the National Security Agency.

“I have consistently observed that anytime someone is educated about how their data is used and how much of it providers hold, they are generally unhappy,” Williams says.

Consumer Reports has raised concerns over the years about dynamic pricing becoming one-sided, with no transparency for consumers, and sellers taking advantage. CR, a nonprofit organization, believes sites using dynamic pricing should have to make that clear to consumers, and consumers should be able to get the best price from the seller without the seller knowing their shopping history.

Significant Food and Drug Safety Worries

Beyond automobiles, consumers also voiced concerns about the safety of their food and medication: Sixty percent said they lack confidence that the food supply is safe, free of contamination, and produced without unnecessary antibiotics. Forty-four percent said they lack confidence about whether prescription drugs, including antibiotics, are being prescribed safely. And in answer to a new question for this survey, most Americans (82 percent) say the government should do more to enforce food safety laws.

Food Safety Stats

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Consumer Reports plans to continue the important testing work it has done through the years on the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat and poultry as well as the problem of dangerous metals such as arsenic and lead in foods and liquids commonly consumed by children—products such as juice and rice cereal for infants.

CR is calling for the administration to implement new federal rules that strengthen the organic standard, improve the Nutrition Facts panel, and otherwise make food labels clearer for consumers. Our organization will also continue to pressure producers and fast-food chains to source sustainably raised meat and poultry and ensure that food is adequately tested and inspected before being sold.

Topmost on one older consumer’s mind was the connection between well-being and safe food. The retired widow from the Northeast said she was most concerned “that our food supply is going to be tested, so we don’t get ill from eating foods that are contaminated.” She added: “Our health depends on what we eat.”

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