Public Is of Two Minds about Health Care Reform, Poll Shows

Article excerpt

WITH THE health care debate entering the home stretch in Congress, the American public seems as ambivalent as Congress about the nature and scope of health care reform.

Although a majority of Americans continue to support the notions of health care reform and universal coverage, large numbers seem uneasy about the possible increase in government control over health care and the effects that real reform may have on the middle class.

Americans interviewed in a new Gallup Poll take a favorable view of the general concepts expressed in the new bill proposed by Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and to a lesser extent, those proposed by Sen. George J. Mitchell, D-Maine.

When described in detail (but without mentioning the names of the sponsors), the Gephardt plan gets a favorable reaction from 61 percent of adults; the Mitchell plan 48 percent.

But when asked in general terms whether they support the Democratic leadership health care bills in Congress, only 39 percent of the public say they are in favor of what the leadership has to offer, while 46 percent oppose their plans, and 50 percent say they still have not heard of any reform bill that they favor (15 percent have no opinion).

Most Americans say they would prefer to see Congress deal with health care reform gradually over several years rather than pass a detailed health care bill this year (68 percent gradual vs. 28 percent this year).

On balance, Americans seem to believe that they have more to lose than gain from a major overhaul of the health care system. Perhaps because such a high percentage report already having health insurance (88 percent), Americans seem reluctant to risk their current benefits or to increase the role of government to achieve universal coverage.

When asked which of two possibilities concerns them more, 54 percent fear they could end up with worse coverage than they now have; only 30 percent are more worried that they could wind up without health insurance if Congress fails to enact reform.

Similarly, 53 percent say they are more concerned that Congress will pass a plan that gives government too much control, contrasted with the 40 percent who are more concerned that Congress will settle for a plan that does not guarantee health insurance for every American.

One recent strategy employed by the White House to court public opinion is to define health care reform as primarily a safety net for the middle class. …