HEALTH POLITICS: Steady as She Polls
If polling on health reform were a band, we'd call it The Hold Steady.
Several new surveys out this week show the public remains as conflicted as ever on health reform -- convinced of the need for change, but worried about the impact on their lives and the lives of their family.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday shows 48 percent of those surveyed supported the proposed reforms; 49 percent opposed them. An AP poll released Monday found a similar split, with 41 percent in favor; 43 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided.
These even divides are consistent with past polls, suggesting that the uproar in August was more of a bump in the road than turning point. However beneath the topline questions are some interesting trends.
First, as the Washington Post points out, while public approval of President Obama's handling of health reform has declined he still holds a double digit lead over Republicans. Possibly more importantly, support for reform among seniors -- the group most critical of current proposals -- is up 13 percent from September, suggesting that some of most offensive scare tactics directed at seniors, such as death panels and socialized medicine, may be losing their edge.
As we've noted before, support for the major policies of health reform legislation remain generally strong. But the answers to these questions often depend on how the question is framed. In the AP poll 67 percent favor requiring all Americans to have some form of insurance, but 64 percent opposed a law that "would require every person to have health insurance and pay money to the government as a penalty if they did not, unless the person is very poor." The fluidity of such answers reinforces the points made by Robert Blendon in a recent column for Kaiser Health News:
[P]olls show countervailing concerns about the congressional plans. These involve the potential impact of the bills on Americans' health costs and affordability, their taxes, the extent of government interference in their health care decisions, and worries that health care for those receiving Medicare will deteriorate. Regardless of public enthusiasm for health reform as a principle, and support for many policy elements in the House bill itself, most Americans do not see their healthcare situation as getting better if this legislation is signed into law, and some see their situation as getting worse.
In the weeks ahead, Americans are unlikely to read the 2000-page House bill. Rather, they will form their judgment about the final legislation based on others' assessments. They will rely on those whom they trust as intermediaries to clarify its impact on them.
That impact is unclear as the Senate stages a sort of modern adaption of Samuel Beckett's classic work, with it's current production of "Waiting for CBO." The release of a bill and CBO cost estimate, which could come later Wednesday, should help lessen our existential unease, but the real challenge for proponents of reform will be explaining the bill in a way that makes its benefits clear and its costs worthwhile. The jury of public opinion is still out, but its verdict may come quickly.