Most Americans believe nurses and health care aides are underpaid, according to a survey from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Public attitudes toward health care workers' compensation
For the survey, researchers surveyed 1,071 individuals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between June 10 and July 14, with 1,036 responses collected online and 35 collected by telephone.
According to the survey, around 60% of Americans believe nurses and health care aides are underpaid. In comparison, only 11% of Americans believe that doctors are underpaid.
The survey also found that around half of Americans believe that doctors are paid just the right amount, and around 6 in 10 Americans believe the same is true for physical therapists and pharmacists.
Notably, there are two groups that most Americans consider to be overpaid. Around 7 in 10 Americans consider both hospital executives and insurance executives to be overpaid.
In addition, the survey found that Americans' attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have not significantly changed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. While most Americans believe the ACA did not affect the pay of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers, around a third believe that hospital and insurance executives' pay increased due to the law.
However, there is a divide among those who support the ACA and those who oppose it regarding health care policies related to funding for health care workers. For example, those who support the ACA are more likely than those who oppose it to support government funding to increase doctors' salaries (23% vs. 13%) or increase the number of doctors (73% vs. 42%).
Potential policy implications
Joshua Gottlieb, an associate professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, said of the findings, "Most of the public clearly believes doctors are paid about the right amount or are overpaid, but many Americans don't have an accurate sense of doctors' salaries."
He added, "More research on health care workers' pay could better inform public opinion around health care policies, spending, and the government's role in shaping contemporary labor markets."
In addition, Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center, said while the results show Americans' opinions are divided when it comes to the ACA and other health care reform proposals, many Americans are in consensus about health care workers' compensation.
"These findings provide some evidence that policies designed to improve pay for nurses and health care aides or lower the salaries of executives could be popular with both Democrats and Republicans," Tompson said. (Davis, HealthLeaders Media, 8/12; AP/NORC issue brief, 8/2021)