The Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday that its latest tracking poll shows 57 percent of Americans now believe tackling a health overhaul is more important than ever, up from 53 percent in August.
Forty-two percent of Americans now believe their family would be better off if an overhaul passes, up from 36 percent in August, the poll also found. And the percentage who believe the country would be better off has climbed to 53 percent, up from 45 percent last month.
The pollsters interpreted the findings to mean that overhaul backers still have an opportunity – but nothing more — to pull off a comprehensive overhaul after the chances appeared to be wilting in the heat of August town hall meetings.
A conservative analyst said the numbers in the poll do not show powerful support for an overhaul. “Despite the top-line numbers, the poll still shows there is considerable concern among the American people about health reform,” said Grace Marie Turner, president of the right-leaning Galen Institute.
“The poll just says the hemorrhaging has stopped and pulled up in a positive direction” for an overhaul, Kaiser President Drew Altman said in an interview. “That’s all it said.”
The poll had a margin of error of three percentage points. The foundation surveyed 1,203 Americans 18 or older from September 11 through September 18.
“Opinion in the coming months is hard to predict, but as the focus shifted from the town halls and hot button issues to the President, the Congress and the core issues in the legislation that affect people the most, the summer downturn in support was largely erased,” Altman observed in a news release announcing the findings.
The modest uptick in support in the past month in part reflected a softening of negative attitudes among Republicans and independents toward reform, the foundation said.
Forty-nine percent of Republicans said their families would be worse off with an overhaul, down from 61 percent in August. Twenty-six percent of independents said they would be worse off, down from 36 percent in August.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled, including 56 percent of independents, said Republicans are opposing an overhaul more for political reasons than because they think an overhaul would be bad for the country.
The findings may provide some comfort to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who frustrated some of his fellow Democrats in recent weeks by delaying committee action on an overhaul to try to first attract some Republican support.
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed favored taking longer to work out a bipartisan approach compared with 42 percent who said they preferred to see Democrats move on their own.
But those bipartisan negotiations have stopped now that Baucus has moved to a markup.
“Quite obviously they are miles from a bipartisan approach,” Altman said.
The poll found support for approaches to increasing insurance coverage similar to those Baucus is proposing.
Fifty-seven percent of the public backed “having health insurance companies pay a fee based on how much business they have” and 59 percent would support “having health insurance companies pay a tax for offering very expensive policies.”
Also, 68 percent expressed support for requiring that individual Americans carry health coverage.
“There almost isn’t anything you can do to an insurance company that won’t be popular with the public,” Altman said.
But because the fee and tax proposals were new, the poll did not test public reaction to arguments for and against the proposals, he noted.
Also, tolerance for the individual mandate may change depending on public perceptions of how affordable coverage is under proposed subsidies and how good the coverage is that will be offered.
Those issues will soon be coming into sharper focus, Altman noted.
“Seniors are still less convinced reform will benefit them,” according to the foundation. “The share of seniors who think their family would be better off if reform passes climbed 8 percentage points from August, from 23 percent to 31 percent. Twenty-eight percent thought they would be worse off, and 33 percent said it wouldn’t make a difference.
Fifty-five percent of seniors said they were ‘confused.’”
A plurality of seniors – 49 percent – were opposed to limiting future increases in Medicare payments to providers as a way to pay for an overhaul. But Altman said that senior support is still “up for grabs” because the payment revisions “can help assure that Medicare will be around in the future.”
The poll found that 59 percent of seniors “would back the same limits if they were framed as helping to ‘keep Medicare financially sound in the future.’”
Turner said in e-mail comments on the poll that “despite the top-line numbers, the poll still shows there is considerable concern among the American people about health reform. For example, 51 percent of those surveyed say that they will be worse off or that reform will make no difference to them, compared to only 42 percent who think they will be better off if it passes. Importantly, 61 percent of seniors think that they will be worse off or that reform will make no difference to them personally, and only 31 percent think they will be better off. This negative rating among seniors should give legislators pause.”
Turner added, “It’s not surprising, then, that those polled were nearly evenly split on whether Congress should press on with reform; 47 percent said they should stop or pursue a more limited reform agenda vs. 50 percent who said they should continue. By a 47 to 42 percent margin, those polled still say they want the reform bill to be bi-partisan.”
That finding means lawmakers would face a backlash if they resort to using the budget maneuver known as “reconciliation” to get a Democrats-only measure through the Senate with a simple majority, Turner said.
She added that “supporters of an individual mandate should be very worried about this poll. It received support of 68 percent of those surveyed in the initial question, but only 29 percent of them would continue to support a mandate if it meant that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want. That should be a real warning sign since the individual mandate is central to the structure of all of the health reform bills making their ways through committees in Congress.”