Policy-ish

When Explained, Health Overhaul Popularity Goes Up

Does the public really hate the health care bills? Nope. They just don't know what's in them. That's what the results of the latest Kaiser Health Tracking poll on the overhaul legislation now stalled in Congress say.

Pollsters find people like health care overhaul when they understand what's in it.
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The Kaiser Family Foundation poll (no affiliation with the HMO) shows that when respondents were told about the specifics of the health bills, they usually liked them more.

For example, 73 percent of those polled by KFF said they were more supportive of the measure after hearing that the bill would provide tax credits to small businesses to help them offer coverage to their workers.

More than two-thirds increased their support when they were told the bills included insurance "exchanges" where people could go to buy health insurance.

And 63 percent said they liked overhaul more when they found out it would ban insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting health conditions.

The results make for an interesting contrast from the Jan. 20 Gallup poll right after Tuesday's Massachusetts special election. That one showed that the majority of Americans (55 percent) want Congress to scrap the current bill and seek alternatives.

To be sure, not every explanation of the bill drew praise. Those that lowered support for the bill included the fact that it would cost—offset by taxes and cuts to Medicare—more than $870 billion over 10 years and the fact that it would require most people to have health insurance.

And despite President Obama's vow that he will not sign a bill that would "add one dime to the deficit," only 15 percent of respondents said they expected the bill to reduce the deficit, even though 56 percent said if that were the case, they would support it.

Only 44 percent knew that the bill would close the notorious Medicare "doughnut hole," the quirk in Medicare's drug benefit where coverage stops but seniors still have to pay their premiums.

But perhaps the most ominous finding of the Kaiser poll is that after nearly a year of debate, people appear to know so little about some of the measure's key points.

Perhaps Democrats' biggest problem with the bill is not having a strategy to get it passed, but not having a strategy to explain what it does to a public that still seems to want health overhaul.

KFF has been asking the public about the bill every month for more than a year now. And while support has been slipping, according to the January tally, it's far from in the tank. In fact, according to the poll conducted Jan. 7-12, supporters of the measure slightly outnumber detractors, 42 percent to 41 percent, with 16 percent undecided, although there is a margin of error or plus or minus three percentage points.

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