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Kaiser poll shows rising public support for health care reform

Posted: September 29, 2009 3:47 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2009 11:00 p.m.
 
Fifty-seven percent of Americans now believe that tackling health care reform is more important than ever - up from 53 percent in August.

The proportion of Americans who think their families would be better off if health reform passes is up 6 percentage points (42 percent versus 36 percent in August), and the percentage who think that the country would be better off is up 8 percentage points (to 53 percent from 45 percent in August).

Despite the uptick, a substantial share of the public (47 percent) favors taking longer to work out a bipartisan approach to health reform, compared to 42 percent who would prefer to see Democrats move faster on their own.

Meanwhile, the public continues to view the action in Washington with mixed feelings: The largest share (68 percent) said they were "hopeful" about reform, but 50 percent are "anxious" and 31 percent "angry."

"Opinion in the coming months is hard to predict, but as the focus shifted from the town halls and hot button issues to the President, the Congress and the core issues in the legislation that affect people the most, the summer downturn in support was largely erased," said Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman.

Republicans and political independents became markedly more pessimistic about health reform in August, but those viewpoints softened in September.

Forty-nine percent of Republicans say their family would be worse off if health reform passes, this is down from 61 percent in August. The percentage of independents saying they would be worse off fell from 36 percent in August to 26 percent this month.

Democrats remain overwhelmingly in favor of tackling health care now (77 percent), while most Republicans say we cannot afford to do so (63 percent) and independents are more evenly divided (51 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed).

Fifty-seven percent of the public - including 56 percent of independents - say the GOP is opposing reform plans more for political reasons than because they think reform will be bad for the country.

Substantial majorities of Americans continue to say they back individual reform components designed to expand coverage, including an individual mandate (68 percent), an employer mandate (67percent) and an expansion of state programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (82 percent).

The component that draws among the strongest support across the political spectrum is requiring that health insurance companies cover anyone who applies, even if they are sick or have a pre-existing condition.

Overall, eight in 10 people support that idea, including 67 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of independents and 88 percent of Democrats.

When it comes to paying for reform, two ideas now under discussion among policymakers garner initial majority support.

Fifty-seven percent of the public say they would support "having health insurance companies pay a fee based on how much business they have" and 59 percent would support "having health insurance companies pay a tax for offering very expensive policies."

In both cases, Republicans are evenly divided while Democrats and political independents tilt in favor. The poll did not test arguments for and against the policies.

People say they would be more likely to support a new reform proposal if they heard it would:

* Improve health care for our children and grandchildren (77 percent)

* Provide financial help to buy health insurance to those who need it (74 percent)

* Help ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare (69 percent)

* Fulfill a moral obligation by ensuring that people don't have to go without needed health care just because they can't afford it
(68 percent)

* Mean that people with a history of illness would not be denied coverage and could get it at the same price as healthier people (65 percent).

Conversely, people say they would be less likely to support a new reform proposal if they heard that it would:

* Limit choice of doctors (65 percent)

* Reduce the quality of care provided to seniors under Medicare (63 percent)

* Result in payment cuts that might make doctors less willing to take Medicare patients (62 percent)

* Get the government too involved in your personal health care decisions (59 percent)

* Increase people's insurance premiums or other out-of-pocket costs (57 percent).

While policymakers debate solutions, the problem of high health care costs remains.

One third of Americans (33 percent) say they or someone in their household has had problems paying medical bills over the past year. That is up 9 percentage points from August and represents the highest level this measure has reached in nearly a year.

A majority of Americans (56 percent) also say they have put off care over the last 12 months because of cost reasons, with many saying that they had relied on home remedies or over the counter drugs instead of seeing a doctor (44 percent), skipped dental care or other checkups (35 percent), or skipped a recommended medical test or treatment (28 percent).

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