Saturday, September 26, 2009

Poll Shows How Confused Americans Are About Health Care Reform

A much touted joint CBS News/NY Times poll shows that 65% of Americans support a "GOV’T HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN" (i.e. a "public option), while 26% oppose it. More interestingly still, "SUPPORT HEALTH CARE REFORMS WITHOUT A PUBLIC OPTION" is only at 38%, with 40% opposing reform without it, and 22% unsure. Good news for proponents of the public option, yes? Who knows. Because the next question in the poll is "SHOULD GOVT. GUARANTEE HEALTH INSURANCE FOR ALL AMERICANS?", to which 51% of American reply "No", down from 64% three months ago, and down 5% from 1996. The question is: if the government should not guarantee health insurance for all Americans, who do Americans expect to provide and pay for health care? The health care fairy? Haven't Americans noticed that, short of a government guarantee, the health insurance sector has shown that it is not willing to sacrifice its gargantuan profits for the well-being of America?

To recap: The majority of Americans favor a public option and even opposes, by a slight margin, reform that does not include it. But, at the same time, they do not want the government to guarantee health insurance for all Americans. So, presumably, they want the government to ask health insurance companies to please be nice and take a small hit on their profits to give the impression of reform. What am I missing here?

The American public is confused. No wonder, given the fact that it so easily misinformed and so easy to manipulate with emotions rather than sticking to logic.

For example, since last April, the percentage of Americans who believe that the system is fundamentally fine and needs tweaking only has risen by 7% (and yet, 78% of Americans favor fundamental changes in the system, up to and including "rebuilding" it.) This seems to show that the politics of no peddled by Republican shills has had an effect on the national psyche, at least for some. But, curiosly, the percentage of Americans who are very or somewhat satisfied with the health care they receive is also 78%.

How could it be that 78% of Americans are satisfied with the health care they receive and the same percentage wants the system to be fundamentally changed or rebuilt? The only explanation I can offer is that they are happy with the quality of care they receive, but they nonetheless sense that the system is too expensive and not dependable. And in fact, this can be evinced by the next question: "HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU WITH THE COST OF YOUR HEALTH CARE?". 73% of respondents are somewhat dissatisfied to dissatisfied. However, when asked which is more important, keeping costs down or providing coverage to the uninsured, 59% went for the latter against 35% for the former.

In other words, the American people are clueless as to what they really want.

I believe that much of the blame for this confusion can be laid at the President's door: The winning case for health care reform is the "moral imperative", as the last statistic I quoted shows. Universal coverage should have been the foundation for reform. But the president and his allies were less than clear about the goals of reform, mixing the need to provide coverage for the uninsured with the issue of cost. It seems to me that if the president had made a strong case for covering everybody first, and then tackled the issue of cost, we would be much closer to meaningful reform than we are now. Instead, we are close to getting reform that will not achieve universal coverage, with the most optimistic figure leaving 5% of the population uninsured. And because reform will likely not include a public option while at the same time setting an individual mandate, costs for the insured are going to rise, ensuring that a larger number of people will find it harder and harder to be able to afford what the government has mandated.

What an ugly mess.

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