WASHINGTON Americans' views of the U.S. health care system differ widely based on political party preferences, with Republicans far more likely than Democrats to call it the world's best, a poll released on Thursday showed.
People taking part in the survey by the Harvard University School of Public Health and Harris Interactive were asked if they thought the United States has the best health care system or if other countries had better ones.
Overall, 45 percent said the U.S. system is best, 39 percent disagreed and 15 percent said they did not know or declined to answer.
Clear differences appeared when the respondents were sorted by political party identification. Among Republicans, 68 percent said the United States is the best, compared to 32 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents.
The survey was conducted from March 5 to 8, with a nationally representative sample of 1,026 people. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
"We didn't think the split would be as large as it was between Republicans and Democrats," Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor of health policy and political analysis who helped design the survey, said in a telephone interview.
"Just based on your party perspective, your view about whether or not there's something better out there, as a system, is so different," Blendon said.
Runaway U.S. health-care spending and lack of medical coverage for millions of Americans have emerged as issues in this year's U.S. presidential campaign. An estimated 47 million people in a country of about 300 million have no health insurance, either private or government-provided.
The non-profit Commonwealth Fund said in November Americans spend double what people in other industrialized nations do on health care, but have more trouble seeing doctors, face more medical errors and are more apt to go without treatment.
Those findings came in a poll of 12,000 people in the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
British researchers said in January that the United States rated worst in rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations.
In the Harvard survey, 26 percent of respondents said the United States is better than other countries in providing affordable health care access to everyone, and 21 percent felt the United States was better in controlling health care costs.
Also, 55 percent of respondents said U.S. patients receive better quality of care than those in other nations and 53 percent said waiting times were shorter for U.S. patients to see specialists or be admitted to the hospital than elsewhere.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)