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UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH), Aetna Inc. (AET): The Eight Biggest Health Problems Americans Face

What are the biggest health problems in the U.S.? It depends on whom you ask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would put heart disease at the top of the list, since it’s the leading cause of death in the nation. If we looked to Google for an answer, Americans searched for information about hemorrhoids more than any other health problem in 2012.

Probably the best source to ask about the biggest health problems facing Americans, though, are Americans themselves. Here are the top eight health problems identified by U.S. respondents in a 2012 Gallup poll.

1. Access
For the 10th year in a row, Americans listed access to health care as one of their top two concerns. Obamacare’s mandate that individuals purchase insurance goes into effect in 2014, so it will be interesting to see if this issue remains near the top of the list. For now, nearly a quarter of all Americans view access as the nation’s most significant health issue.

2. Cost
The high cost of health care has also ranked in the top two problems cited by Americans since 2003. If health insurance company predictions come true, expect this issue to stay among American’s top concerns.

Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) CEO Mark Bertolini said that a “premium rate shock” was in store for next year with some insurance premiums doubling. Bertolini isn’t alone with this line of thinking. UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) warned brokers earlier this year that some customers could see their premiums more than double, and some small business rates could jump by as much as 50%.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH)Insurers like Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) will raise premiums largely because of the increased numbers of individuals with poor health who will buy insurance under Obamacare. Aetna actually encouraged brokers to reenroll members at the end of 2013 rather than in 2014 to delay cost increases. Both Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) will attempt to make up for any negatives from the individual insurance market by growing their respective Medicare and Medicaid managed care businesses.

Credit: UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH)

3. Obesity
The number of Americans who think obesity is the most urgent health problem has doubled in the last six years. According to the CDC, more than a third of adult Americans are obese. Some economists estimate that obesity-related costs account for more than 20% of total U.S. health-care expenditures.

4. Cancer
Cancer continues to take its toll on Americans, causing more than 570,000 deaths in 2011. Understandably, the disease ranks highly among health challenges that face the U.S. The good news is that more effective treatments have become available with more on the way.

For example, Medivation Inc (NASDAQ:MDVN) and partner Astellas Pharma received approval for prostate cancer drug Xtandi last August — three months ahead of schedule. Medivation Inc (NASDAQ:MDVN) also recently obtained a positive recommendation for Xtandi in Europe. In clinical studies, Xtandi prolonged survival rates in patients with advanced prostate cancer by five months compared to placebo.

While the U.S. commercial launch just got cranked up, some industry experts expect Xtandi to reach annual sales of more than $2 billion in the next several years. Success of drugs like this helps patients and investors alike.

5. Government interference
Is Uncle Sam less of an uncle and more like George Orwell’s “Big Brother” when it comes to health care? Many Americans might think so, resulting in government interference taking the fifth spot among health problems. Controversy over some provisions in Obamacare appear to be a likely reason for this issue ranking so highly.