As the health reform debate in Congress moves from the floodlights in the Senate Finance Committee to the closed, backrooms in the Capitol, White House officials and congressional Democrats appear determined to pass their version of health reform regardless of what the public supports or wants in health reform legislation.
According to a public opinion survey commissioned by the Galen Institute and released this week, the American people oppose – in strong numbers – key components of the plans being considered in Congress. The survey was conducted October 8-11 by International Communications Research (ICR), a non-partisan research firm based in Pennsylvania.
For example, the requirement that all Americans must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty is part of all the plans under consideration in Congress, yet 71 percent are opposed to this approach, according to our survey.
Large majorities of Americans are opposed to requiring people – for the first time in our nation's history – to purchase a product simply for the opportunity to live here and to pay a tax if they don't comply.
While only 21 percent of Americans support this provision, there is strong support for the individual mandate among Democrats in Congress and at the White House who are fighting to include it in the final bill.
An incomplete question in another poll released this week byThe Washington Postand ABC News shows 56 percent support an individual mandate, but the question fails to mention anything about the tax penalty.
Since the penalty is a critical enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate – and would hit a person who doesn't purchase health coverage — our survey's finding of 71 percent opposition to the individual mandate provides a more accurate reading of public opinion about the mandate Congress actually is considering.
Most people recognize the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate for what it is, a tax. And if Washington policymakers listened to the wishes of the public, they would rethink all of the taxes in their health reform proposals.
Fifty-eight percent oppose increasing taxes on the working and middle class in order to help cover the uninsured, most of them "strongly" opposed (44 percent), according to our survey, with less than four in ten (39 percent) in favor.
Imposing a new tax for not buying health insurance on working families already struggling to make ends meet during tough economic times is not the type of change most Americans were promised last November.
Numerous congressional health reform bills seek to pay for expanding coverage for some of the uninsured by cutting Medicare and Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. When asked whether they supported reducing health benefits for seniors in order to expand coverage for the uninsured, more than two-thirds were opposed.
With so much talk of a divide between a red and a blue America, our survey showed the public to be remarkably united across partisan lines in opposition to this revenue-raising provision, which is another critical element of Democratic reform proposals.
Strong bipartisan majorities oppose reducing benefits for seniors, including 86 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of Democrats.
Our survey found the public prefers a targeted health reform effort, with Congress taking on a few problems at a time instead of making so many changes all at once. In town hall meetings across the country, Americans pleaded with their representatives to slow down and not try to do too much. Unfortunately, many in Congress are determined to pass a 1,500-page bill that the public doesn't want or support.
Washington's failure to listen to people's views on health care is causing great anxiety and apprehension among the public. According to our survey, 71 percent are concerned that their own health insurance will change if Congress passes health reform.
The concern is broad across many groups — among people aged 55 and older (84 percent), those aged 45-54 (80 percent), Republicans (82 percent), and Independents (78 percent). Almost half of all respondents said they were "very concerned."
Grace-Marie Turner is the President of the Galen Institute, a free-market health care think tank.
Published in The Washington Examiner, October 27, 2009.