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Survey Finds Mixed Support for Health Reform

By Greg Scandlen
Director, Consumers for Health Care Choices at the Heartland Institute

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds very little support for spending more money on health information technology, with only 20 percent of the public supporting the idea, 60 percent saying spending should stay the same, and 17 percent saying it should drop.

The survey of 1,600 adults found quite a few nuanced views of public opinion around health reform. For instance, when asked, "Would you favor or oppose requiring employers to either offer health insurance or pay money into a government pool?" 71 percent of respondents said they were in favor and only 26 percent were opposed. But when they were asked, "What if you heard that paying for this may cause some employers to lay off some workers?" only 29 percent continued to favor it while 64 percent opposed.

Similarly, when asked, "Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance with help for those who cannot afford it?" 67 percent were in favor and 31 percent were opposed. But when also asked, "What if you heard that this could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want?" support dropped to 19 percent and opposition rose to 78 percent.

These caveats are critically important. The survey found support eroding under a wide range of conditions:

  • 66 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "would get the government too involved in your personal health care decisions."
  • 61 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "was going to increase people's insurance premiums or other out-of-pocket costs."
  • 56 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "limited your own choice of doctor."
  • 46 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "was going to increase taxes."
  • 43 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "meant that you would have to switch health insurance plans."
  • 37 percent were less likely to support a proposal if it "meant that there were waiting lists for some non-emergency treatments."

People's opinions are split when it comes to willingness to pay more for health reform.

Since 1991 this survey has been asking, "Would you be willing to pay more--either in higher health insurance premiums or higher taxes--in order to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance, or not?" This year, 49 percent answered "no," and 47 percent said "yes." In 2007, 58 percent said no and 39 percent said yes. In fact, 2003 was the only year in which a majority--53 percent--said they would be willing to pay more.

But people are perfectly happy to have someone else pay for all this. Seventy-two percent favored a cigarette tax, 70 percent favored higher taxes on people making more than $250,000, and 61 percent favored repealing the tax cut on families making more than $250,000. Eighty-one percent of those getting employer-based coverage oppose taxing the value of those benefits.

People are also happy to stick it to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with 65 percent favoring "government imposing limits on the administrative expenses on health insurance companies," and 64 percent in favor of limiting their profits. And 90 percent believe the federal government should "negotiate" prices of drugs under Medicare Part D.

By the way, 79 percent of the population favors "spending more federal money" to eliminate the donut hole in Medicare Part D. There was no follow-up question about what they would think if they knew that "federal money" is in fact their money and such a move would raise their taxes. So, maybe Mr. Obama's complaint about childish Americans has some merit, after all.

To see the full report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, click here.

To read more expert health care analysis from Heartland, click here.



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