AP Poll: Public Favors Gov't Health Plan

More Americans support creation of a new government-run health insurance plan to compete with the private insurance market, a new Associated Press poll finds, but the level of enthusiasm depends on how the question is asked.

Tell people that letting the government sell insurance would be cheaper for them, and a majority is in favor.

Tell them the government would be making decisions about what medical care they could get, and support sinks.

The findings from an Associated Press poll come as lawmakers struggle to advance President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul, with the final shape of any government insurance plan very much in doubt. The issue has been the biggest flash point in the health care debate, and the poll results underscore that how it is defined can make a big difference in the public's response.

Politicians know that. It's why when Republicans talk about letting the government sell health coverage in competition with private carriers, they cast it as a government takeover that would destroy private industry. Democrats talk about choice, competition and "keeping health insurance companies honest."

The AP poll, conducted by Stanford University with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, suggests that when such messages are heard, they have an effect.

Half of the 1,500 participants in the AP poll were told that a government insurance plan "would be less expensive than other insurance plans, because the government would not need to make a profit the way businesses do and because the government is able to negotiate lower prices with doctors and hospitals than insurance companies can."

Fifty-two percent said they favored such a plan, while 35 percent were opposed and 12 percent neither favored nor opposed it.

"I fundamentally feel that the private insurance industry basically holds all the market power" and could use some competition from a nonprofit alternative, said Robert Baulch, 58, of North Chatham, Mass.

The goal is "covering a lot of folks that just can't get coverage and reducing the cost overall," he said.

The other half of the people polled were told the government plan would be less expensive, but they were also told that "the government would run the insurance plan and decide which medical care would be paid for and how much would be paid, like insurance companies do."

That version of the question found 44 percent in support and 38 percent opposed, while 15 percent neither favored nor opposed the idea.

"They would decide which medical care would be paid for," said Jeff Anderson, 43, of Burlingame, Calif. "If you have a tumor growing inside you that needs to be removed or you're going to die, and they decide, well, we don't cover cancer or we don't cover other types of diseases - you know, that's just wrong."

So while both questions elicited more supporters than opponents for a public insurance plan - bearing out the results of past polling that has shown the public generally supportive - the plan commanded majority support only when cast in positive terms that emphasized benefits to consumers over government control.

The poll also sought to elicit views of the government insurance plan design under consideration by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as he finalizes a health care bill to bring to the Senate floor.

Legislation passed by the House this month included a public plan available nationally for small businesses and, mostly, self-employed people. Under Reid's version, individual states would be able to opt out of the public plan.

Poll participants were asked whether government insurance should be available to all, or whether state governments should be able to decide not to offer it. Seventy percent favored making it available nationally while 25 percent said state governments should be able to decide.

Overall, the poll found the public split on Congress' drive to enact sweeping legislation extending coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. Opinion was also evenly divided on Obama's handling of the matter, and participants expressed concerns and confusion about costs and various other aspects of the issue.

Despite the controversy surrounding the public plan, it would affect a small number of people. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House bill estimated that about 6 million people would sign up for the public option in 2019, once it was fully phased in. That represents about 2 percent of Americans under age 65. (Older people are covered through Medicare.)

The overwhelming majority of the population would remain in private health insurance plans sponsored by employers. Others, mainly low-income people, would be covered through an expanded Medicaid program.

The budget office also said that "a less healthy pool of enrollees" would probably be attracted to the public option, drawn by the prospect of looser rules on access to specialists and medical services. As a result, premiums in the public plan would actually be higher than the average for private plans, according to the budget office.

In the AP-GfK poll, the differently worded questions on the public plan each had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. The poll interviewed 1,502 people from Oct. 29-Nov. 8 with an overall sampling error margin of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The interviews were conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. Stanford University's participation in the project was made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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  • by Derek Location: Greenville on Nov 20, 2009 at 05:52 AM
    Good point Wow. But don't forget the people making noise about health care reform are the same people that took on the name 'Teabagger' - now when I was in college that word meant something else......
  • by Wow Location: Greenville on Nov 19, 2009 at 07:06 PM
    You guys are so wrapped up in this "SOCIALISM IS EVILLL" mindset/brainwashing that you have no idea what you are raging against. You yell about your freedoms being in danger but at the same time are complacent and let unethical and unfair private insurance companies make decisions on "your medical care" and what they will and will not pay??? I can mention plenty of agencies run by the government that work pretty well. None of them are perfect, but they are better run by the government than by private business. (The US military, Fire Dept, Police, FDA, Medicare, etc.) You guys must think the USA really sucks pretty bad and that we are so incompetent that we can't provide health insurance for everyone, even though every other modern country but us manages to do just that. Maybe you should be the ones to leave - go to Somalia where there is no government controlling your life, those folks seem real happy over there!
  • by Derek Location: Greenville on Nov 19, 2009 at 11:21 AM
    Tim - Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution, is known as the Taxing and Spending Clause. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. I will admit it is very vague, but the general welfare of the nation probably includes some sort of health care. If the government is going to collect my taxes I should be entitled to health care, like the constitution states.
  • by T maxx Location: Greenville on Nov 18, 2009 at 06:54 PM
    Hey, people can you name any agencies ran by the government that suceed. MMM like NO. How in the heck you people think the government can run this health care system. Well, why dont we all stop working and let this socialist take care of us. And continue to spend money like a drunking sailor.Peolpe cant you see that this regime wants the America people to depend on the government for everything. If you want to live like that then move to south america or china. The people who wants this government run institution vote for this idiot. We have in office now. Yea how is that working out for you. Its ashmame that the good we all have to suffer, but we can make a difference get these Obama supporter out of office the next election. Power to the people.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 18, 2009 at 05:57 PM
    Why does anybody think we should be provided everything. I agree, some people deserve free health care but a lot don't. College students that are trying to better themselves should all have health care no matter their age. People who are hard working should have health care. People who do nothing all day but sit on their arses should not. PERIOD, especially if hard working people are paying for it. I don't know about you guys but if we are going to have this crap anyway, then I dont mind a few extra bucks coming out of my check as long as we don't cover the sorry and the lazy. That is where we will run into trouble economically. If we cover the lazy and the sorry then that just gives them 1 more reason to remain lazy and sorry and I ain't having it. I don't want this crap anyway but if it has to happen I aint paying for no sorry and lazy people to have it. all. We have to do something to get the sorry and the lazy off their butts. Don't cover them and give them 1 more thing to fuss on
  • by Tim Location: Kitty Hawk on Nov 18, 2009 at 05:14 PM
    Dereck, EXACTLY WHERE in the constitution do you see where anyone "should be provided with general welfare" that includes government funded health care?
  • by PUREBREAD on Nov 18, 2009 at 05:09 PM
    If everybody would look at the first word it says MORE not MOST!But believe me I understand the frustration.It is an AP Poll in other words it is OBSOLETE!
  • by Tim Location: Kitty Hawk on Nov 18, 2009 at 04:42 PM
    I agree there are improvements needed to our current system but, there is no way in hades that I want the government involved. They have so much wasted spending and mismanagement in EVERY program they run and only a fool would want some political czar making their health care decisions.
  • by Derek Location: Greenville on Nov 18, 2009 at 04:33 PM
    OSOC - how are the statements you made to Barlow any different than what an insurance company will say? Go look up Pacific Sun Life insurance and see how many clients they drop because of pre-existing conditions. I doubt the gov't would drop coverage for any of us, because our taxes will pay for it, and they know they could be sued if they did drop it. Actually, its in the constitution that we should be provided with general welfare, does that include a gov't funded health care? I'd argue yes.
  • by william Location: rocky mount on Nov 18, 2009 at 04:25 PM
    Please tell me the last administration of either party that did not waste money. The following statistic is copied from Wikipedia."Public debt in dollars quadrupled during the Reagan and Bush presidencies from 1980 to 1992, and remained at about the same level by the end of the Clinton presidency in 2000. During the administration of President George W. Bush, the debt increased from $5.6 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008,[6] rising from 54% of GDP to 75% of GDP. The debt is projected to continue increasing significantly during President Obama's administration to 100% of GDP, its highest level since World War II.".... "W" left us teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and now American companies cannot compete fiscally as their CEO's are basking in huge bonuses and the Bush tax cuts. This is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
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