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Polls: Opposition to reform…but support for its benefits

December 23rd, 2009, 12:12 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

According to Quinnipiac’s latest poll, 36% of voters “mostly approve” of “the proposed changes to the health care system under consideration in Congress” while 53% “mostly disapprove.”

Looking at the health care plan, independent voters “mostly disapprove” 58 – 30 percent, as do Republicans 83 – 10 percent. Democrats “mostly approve” 64 – 22 percent.

Support for elements of the plan left on the chopping block retain strong support:

While voters oppose the health care plan, they back two options cut from the Senate bill, supporting 56 – 38 percent giving people the option of coverage by a government health insurance plan and backing 64 – 30 percent allowing younger people to buy into Medicare.

But as Democratic pollster Mark Mellman points out, there’s also strong support for many of the key elements of the reform package that have remained in the bill.

The individual elements of healthcare reform are popular, and so is the bill when described in detail.

The most popular provisions of the bill protect against insurance company abuses, expand coverage and make healthcare more affordable. The public supports requiring large and mid-sized businesses to provide health insurance for their employees by nearly a 3-to-1 margin (73%-25%,
CNN). The same is true for expanding Medicaid to the poor (75%-25%, CNN).
Providing subsidies for families that make up to $88,000 a year is favored by a 2-to-1 supermajority (67%-32%, CNN). Additional regulations on insurance companies, such as banning rescission and denial of coverage for those with preexisting conditions are also very popular (60%-39% and
60%-40%, respectively, CNN).

Mellman points to a survey in Louisiana showing 57%-38% for reform after survey respondents were told of its benefits.

Although the Q-poll and Mellman’s analysis may seem to be at odds, they really aren’t. The Q-poll reflects general attitudes of the public, which — whether we like or not, whether they are right or wrong — are not supportive of the reform plan. Mellman’s analysis illustrates that the benefits of reform are (not surprisingly) popular. It stands to reason that a poll on the costs of reform would show that they are unpopular.

It would be a mistake for Democrats to look at the “benefits” polling analysis and assume that because the benefits are popular, their political mission has been accomplished. Instead, they should figure out why there is a gap between general attitudes on the bill as a whole and attitudes towards the bill’s individual benefits.

Likely, what Democrats will find is that there is a combination of concern that the costs of the bill will outweigh the benefits as well as skepticism that the benefits will actually come to pass. Although I personally share Paul Krugman’s view that the the benefits outweigh the costs, after years of getting the shaft, it’s understandable that large sections of the public aren’t as sanguine.

After the legislation is enacted, the question of whether the public believes Congress should pass health care reform becomes largely moot. At that point, the question becomes whether to repeal it, improve it, or leave it as is.

That will significantly change the dynamics of the debate, and while Democrats should of course defend the positive provisions in the bill, they will still need to position themselves on the “improve it” side of the fight, focusing on things like prescription drug cost, the public option, and restraining overall health care spending.

The big challenge for Democrats is that with three-fifths majorities in both the Senate and House as well as control of the White House, they can’t make empty promises — they’ll have to take action. If they can do that, they just might turn 2010 upside down. After all, a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one.

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