AP Poll: Americans fret over health overhaul costs

(AP) – It’s the cost, Mr. President.

Americans are worried about hidden costs in the fine print of health care overhaul legislation, an Associated Press poll says. That’s creating new challenges for President Barack Obama as he tries to close the deal with a handful of Democratic doubters in the Senate.

Although Americans share a conviction that major health care changes are needed, Democratic bills that extend coverage to the uninsured and try to hold down medical costs get no better than a lukewarm reception.

The poll found that 43 percent oppose the health care plans being discussed in Congress, while 41 percent are in support. An additional 15 percent remain neutral or undecided.

When poll questions were framed broadly, the answers seemed to indicate ample support for Obama’s goals. When required trade-offs were brought into the equation, opinions shifted – sometimes dramatically.

In one striking finding, the poll indicated that public support for banning insurance practices that discriminate against those in poor health may not be as solid as it seems.

A ban on denial of coverage because of pre-existing medical problems has been one of the most popular consumer protections in the health care debate. Some 82 percent said they favored the ban, according to a Pew Research Center poll in October.

Costs for those with coverage could go up because people in poor health who’d been shut out of the insurance pool would now be included, and they would get medical care they could not access before.

The health care debate is full of such trade-offs. For example, limiting the premiums that insurance companies can charge 50-year-olds means that 20-year-olds have to pay more for coverage.

More than 4 in 5 Americans now have health insurance, and their perceptions about costs are key as Obama tries to rally his party’s congressional majority. In the House, Democrats came together to pass their bill. In the Senate, Democratic liberals and a smaller group of moderates disagree on core questions even as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., prepares to take legislation to the floor.

And there would also be a stick – a tax penalty to enforce the coverage mandate.

Among Democrats, only 12 percent oppose the broad goal of requiring insurance. But 50 percent oppose fines to enforce it.

The poll found a similar opinion shift on employer requirements: 73 percent agreed that all companies should be required to give their employees at least some health insurance.

Yet when asked if fines should be used to enforce such a requirement on medium and large companies, support dropped to 52 percent. Uninsured workers are concentrated in small companies.

The poll was based on land line and cell phone interviews with 1,502 adults from Oct. 29 to Nov. 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The interviews were conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. Stanford University’s participation was made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research on the health care system.

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