Most Americans believe the nation's healthcare delivery system needs to be reformed, but there is no agreement on how it should be done. And despite months of media coverage, most people remain in the dark about Congress' healthcare reform process, a new Internet poll of 1,000 people shows.
"The American people have yet to be convinced to step beyond their partisan views, or change their perspectives on key healthcare issues," according to the results from the poll, Divided We Remain, conducted by Denver-based consultants Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. "It's not that reform lacks support—75% of Democrats and 55% of Independents—think that the time for change is now. But there is little consensus about how reform should be accomplished. These polling results reflect the partisan divide over healthcare that has been playing out in Congress."
The poll found that:
- 56% of Americans agree that the healthcare system needs to be reformed, but few are willing to make the hard choices to pay for it. When asked what they're most worried about when it comes to healthcare, respondents focused on rising costs, including insurance premium and prescription drug price hikes and the prospect of not being able to afford health insurance. In spite of those concerns, however, sizeable majorities said they are not willing to pay more in taxes (64%) or in premiums (74%) to cover the uninsured.
- Beyond the general agreement on a need for reform, Americans don't agree on what should be done. A partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans exists on nearly every question about healthcare reform—including general strategies, specific proposals, revenue sources, and the proper mix of responsibility between government, business, and individuals. Democrats generally favor a government-based approach that promotes universal coverage through the provision of a "public option." Republicans generally believe that individuals, rather than businesses or the government, should be financial responsible for making sure that all Americans have access to government, and think that reducing healthcare costs is a bigger priority than is increasing access to care. At the moment, opinion among both Democrats and Republicans is split on whether or not to mandate health coverage—with opinion trending against mandates. Independents split most often. Where they do pick a clear side, it is often more Democratic, but not hugely so.
- In spite of months of media coverage and the increasing volume of public discussion on healthcare reform, the American public has a limited understanding of what's happening in Congress. Very few (only 37%) are able to correctly define the term "public option," even when given only three options to choose from. (That's nearly the equivalent probability that one would expect if everyone were just guessing.) And when asked to categorize supporters and opponents, Americans tend to expect a landscape similar to 1993—when pharmaceutical and health insurance companies and lobbyists united in opposition to proposed reforms—rather than grasp the reality of 2009's process, which has garnered some support from such parties.
The poll found that independents are the key swing vote, and 73% of them believe that the government should be most financially responsible for making sure that Americans have access to affordable, quality care. Furthermore, four out of five independents support the creation of a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can't afford private plans offered to them—the essence of the so-called "public option." But with Congress deadlocked over these issues—and 75% of independents stated that any eventual healthcare legislation should be bipartisan—there is clearly much hard work ahead if health reform is to happen this year, despite the fact that Americans still trust President Obama most to do the right thing on the issue.
The poll of 1,000 Americans was conducted over the Internet on Aug. 12-13.
John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.