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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

A candidate can hardly run for president this year without a plan for health coverage. And a poll on health care out this morning from NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that a majority of Americans are backing key elements in the health reform proposals of the two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

NPR's Richard Knox has more details on the poll.

RICHARD KNOX: The new poll shows that the nearly 50 million people without health insurance are very much on Americans' minds this election season. More than nine out of ten call it a serious problem, and three-quarters say it's a very serious problem.

Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation is co-director of the survey project.

Ms. MOLLYANN BRODIE (Co-director of NPR/Kaiser, Harvard Survey Project): One thing that the survey shows is that Americans are concerned about the problem of the uninsured. We see a universal sort of agreement that they'd like to see more people covered — that it's a good goal to go after.

KNOX: One aim of the poll was to find out how people feel about the idea of requiring all individuals to buy health insurance. That's a centerpiece of Senator Clinton's plan.

Six out of ten people support a plan that requires individuals to buy coverage, but also says employers must contribute, government should provide subsidies for low income people, and insurers can't refuse coverage.

But when the question was asked a different way - without emphasizing government subsidies and employer mandates - support dropped.

Ms. BRODIE: When we asked about a very sort of straightforward - just requiring people to have health insurance - it's more 50/50.

KNOX: That suggests support for requiring everybody to buy insurance may be iffy.

Jeffreyna Harper(ph) of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, was a poll participant. She likes Clinton's plan better than Senator Barack Obama's, which would require that parents get their children covered.

Ms. JEFFREYNA HARPER (Poll Participant, Michigan): It's good that your children have insurance. The parents need insurance, too. Who's going to take care of the kids if the parents are sick?

KNOX: The poll finds most independents support a requirement that everybody buy insurance. But many independents have trouble with that, like Lori Moyer(ph) of Roanoke, Virginia.

Ms. LORI MOYER (Independent, Virginia): That's a tough call for me because I don't know that the government should be requiring people to buy it. That kind of is too much involvement from the government by saying that you have to purchase health care.

KNOX: Moyer likes Senator John McCain. But she also likes Senator Obama's plan to require coverage for children.

Ms. MOYER: My main concern is children that are uninsured. I think it's important for the children to get the vaccines that they need and not to be afraid to take them to the doctor because they can't afford a doctor visit to make them well.

KNOX: Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health says support for covering children first may have something to do with last year's debate over the State Children's Health Insurance Plan. President Bush vetoed Congress's proposal as too expansive. But the debate brought the problem of uninsured children to the public's attention.

Mr. ROBERT BLENDON (Harvard School of Public Health): The extraordinary support in this poll among all groups — Democrats, Republicans and independents — for the idea of requiring that every child has a health insurance policy and then provide help to parents who can't afford it. And we don't have as wide a consensus for what to do about adults. So it's the children's side of this which offers the possibility of a very quick breakthrough in the next Congress.

KNOX: On the issue of employers' responsibilities, there's sharp difference between the parties. Three-quarters of Americans say employers should offer health insurance or pay into a government pool to provide coverage. But about twice as many Democrats as Republicans are strongly in favor.

Mr. BLENDON: The employer issue is, I think, going to be a very important issue because that's going to be quite popular from the Democratic side — that employers should be asked to contribute. And Senator McCain will say absolutely no requirements for individuals and absolutely no requirements for business.

KNOX: So it appears the nation can look forward to spirited healthcare debate as the general election approaches. But Jeffreyna Harper, the Clinton supporter in Michigan, doubts it will lead to universal coverage in the next president's term.

Ms. HARPER: Give it five to ten years. We may be able to do it. You know, we may be able to have everybody insured. It's just that they've got to work out the bugs.

KNOX: And one thing's for sure, there will be plenty of bugs to work out.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And for more results from that poll go to npr.org.

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