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Public Actually Supportive of Health Plan

How troubled are Americans by President Obama's proposed health-care overhaul? Less than you might think after reading Ceci Connolly and Jon Cohen's story in The Washington Post today. They write:

A majority of Americans see government action as critical to controlling runaway health-care costs, but there is broad public anxiety about the potential impact of reform legislation and conflicting views about the types of fixes being proposed on Capitol Hill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Most respondents are "very concerned" that health-care reform would lead to higher costs, lower quality, fewer choices, a bigger deficit, diminished insurance coverage and more government bureaucracy. About six in 10 are at least somewhat worried about all of these factors, underscoring the challenges for lawmakers as they attempt to restructure the nation's $2.3 trillion health-care system....

As for the finding in other polls that there is widespread support for a "public plan," which would allow people to purchase insurance from a government-run plan if they weren't happy with the private options, Connolly and Cohen write:

Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

But take a close look at the actual poll questions and results, and the numbers tell a somewhat different story.

First of all, a majority of Americans (53 percent) say they approve of how Obama is handling health care. A larger majority (57 percent) say they are dissatisfied with the current health care system.

By very significant margins, the public likes key aspects of Obama's proposed overhaul. Some 70 percent support a tax credit or other aid to help low-income Americans pay for health insurance; 68 percent support a rule that insurance companies sell coverage to people regardless of pre-existing conditions; 62 percent support having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans. And, yes, that last number goes down if they are warned that "many private health insurers" would then go out of business -- but that's an argumentative assertion made by opponents of the proposal, without any basis in fact. As Ezra Klein blogs for The Washington Post:

If you asked poll respondents, "What if having the public plan lowered your insurance premiums by 20 to 30 percent," my hunch is you'd see a sharp shift toward support of the policy.

On the revenue-generating side, 60 percent support Obama's proposal to raise income taxes on Americans with household incomes over $250,000 to help pay for health care reform. And, interestingly, 70 percent oppose the tax increase some Congressional Democrats say they prefer to Obama's proposal (imposing taxes on high-value health benefits).

So where's the beef? Well, when asked if they have "concerns," people say -- not surprisingly -- that they do. Although their biggest concern is about their family's health care costs in the future, they are also concerned that "current efforts to reform the health care system" will (in descending order) increase their health-care costs, increase the deficit, reduce their insurance coverage, reduce the quality of their health care, and limit their choices of doctors.

But it strikes me that with the details of a health-care overhaul still very much in the air, it simply makes sense to be "concerned." The more significant question is what measures people favor -- and they seem to be lining up behind Obama.

Meanwhile, Obama spoke to ABC News's Diane Sawyer about health care this morning, as part of a media push that wraps up tonight with a televised town meeting. And he directly took on the argument that various "concerns" mean his proposal should be scaled back, or abandoned:

[H]ere's the problem. If we don't change. If we don't reform the system. Then people are going to lose their health care. Or it's going take a bigger and bigger chunk of their paycheck. Or their employer is going start dropping coverage. Or the Federal Government is going stop-- being able to reimburse everything on Medicare and Medicaid. And so, you know, the situation that we confront is do nothing. In which case, the trend lines are such that American families are going be more and more vulnerable. Or we make common sense sensible changes, based on good medicine and good science, which helps us to drive down costs. And allows everybody to have the coverage they need.

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 24, 2009; 1:02 PM ET
Categories:  Health Care  
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Next: Obama Withdraws the Open Hand


Further, the Congressional Budget Office misrepresented things grossly last week by preparing cost estimates based on the plans with no public option--i.e., the primary cost-saving measure in the entire reform package. Whether intentionally misleading or just a gaffe, the 1-to-1.6-trillion price is a hugely inaccurate overestimate.

Even the Wall Street Journal's poll--and they're about as conservative as it gets--shows a big majority of Americans in favor of the public health option. Not to mention Obama's argument from the other day: if the insurance companies are offering such good deals, and are so adept at competition, what do they have to be worried about?

I'm hoping, like he has with Iran, Obama shows an increasingly tough line as the debate proceeds.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 24, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin gets right to the core issue of public option. People are indeed "concerned" that the quality of health care might be eroded through price or availability. What the public also knows is that they are already seeing it being eroded while we do nothing. Clear majorities approve of Obama's plan, and approve of a public option. They know there is a risk in doing something, but they also know that things will continue to get worse if nothing is done. That's why the scare tactics of the GOP have not been effective with the public. The only people who seem to be scared by the lies of the Republicans are Democratic politicians.

Posted by: jheath531 | June 24, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Dayam, Fred's gonna be pissed!

Posted by: dmls2000 | June 24, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Concerns about health reform are understandable. But there exist working models in other industrialized countries that, if not perfect, are a great improvement over what we have in the US today. They all involve universal coverage and a substantial public health care component. The one item that should not be part of the discussion is concern about the survival of private health insurance companies. The whole concept of providing basic health insurance for profit is fundamentally flawed.

Posted by: serban1 | June 24, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

What remains to be seen is whether Obama can move the country, even just a teensy bit, away from the core belief that everything, absolutely EVERTYTHING, we do must be based on someone making money. If he can't, health care reform will go nowhere. Everything we do in this country is fundamentally flawed because everything we do is meant to provide profit for someone first and provide a benefit second or third.

Posted by: SanDiegoBS | June 24, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

My family has a small business in Indiana and cannot afford to give it's employees any kind of health care, that's why we agree with a large portion of Americans on the government single payer system. Born in Europe I paid for our health care with insurance stamps in a little book, so did the employer everybody worked for? Until the mass legal and illegal immigration into my country of birth all citizens had exceptional medical services. It insured us of surgery, eyes and teeth care for all the people. Today Europe is under considerable pressure from the millions of foreign laborers, who poured into my nation and other industrialized countries around us. Why American newspaper always seem to quote that European health care is free--is beyond me? Nothing is free! We paid for it through our employers, but we were--NOT--subsidizing for profit insurance companies?

Every health insurance company removes their pound of flesh, their co-pays, deductible, premiums and of course pre-existing conditions. THESE NEFARIOUS BUSINESSES ARE CURRENTLY SPENDING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, SPREADING RHETORIC AND PROPAGANDA ON TV, RADIO AND IN MAGAZINES. They are truly worried that there mammoth profits are in jeopardy, because for once the majority of the American people are not listening to their lies. Yes! In Europe you do wait for surgical procedures, but no more than three months. Years ago, I had been out of the country visiting relatives in Australia. When I returned their was a letter waiting for me, for an appointment with a nose surgeon. THE RATIONING OF HEALTH CARE HAS ONLY COMMENCED, SINCE THE INFLUX OF FOREIGN NATIONALS NOT PAYING THEIR SHARE IN EUROPE.

We must take into consideration that a American government pool of health care money, far exceeds European standards and would cover every citizen and legal resident--NOT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. Only the well heeled population don't care for it and the for profit trillion dollar business base have issues, because they have so much to lose? If nothing else we should have the ability to choose for ourselves. Those who think that for-profit insurance companies, should know that this avenue is available to them. Then the larger portion of the population should not have to beg, to be covered, as they should have access to government Universal health care. We should all know our enemies in this health care issue, who are right now undermining President Obama's plan. Those politicians who are adverse to any new health care agenda, are without doubt stockholders in hospitals, billing services, insurers or other profit entities. They sold you out to the wealthy special interest lobbyists on E-Verify and a near future AMNESTY. Be ready to throw those political puppets out of office, when their time comes around for re-election. Bombard your Senators and Congressman for a single payer Health care for all AMERICANS.

Posted by: infinity555 | June 24, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

@infinity555, SanDiegoBS, and serban1 - Hear, hear!

It's past time to remove the expectation of making large profits from what amounts to the establishment and maintenance of risk pools.

Posted by: apn3206 | June 24, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

All but the rich or very young know that health care needs to be fixed in the US. With all the money going into health care we should be getting more. All the lies and misinformation should not stop the public for demanding change. The media needs to put out facts on how far behind the US is in all health care statistics and to expose the lies and misinfo so the public will better understand.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | June 25, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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