WASHINGTON – Fears about President Barack Obama's health care overhaul increased significantly in December, according to a new poll released as the legislation's future hangs in doubt.
The monthly poll out Tuesday from the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation measured consumers' views of how a remake would affect their own finances and access to care, among other things.
It was conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 20, in the run-up to the Senate's Christmas Eve passage of sweeping health care legislation that brought Congress closer than ever before to enacting a comprehensive revamp of the nation's medical system. That effort was cast into turmoil last week when a GOP victory in Massachusetts' special Senate election robbed Democrats of their filibuster-proof supermajority.
The survey shows a majority are following the health care debate in Congress — and their trepidation is evidently growing as they do.
Nonetheless, people still think that Obama should address the issue as part of dealing with the nation's economic slump, although the percentage of people who say that it's very important for Obama to do so has slipped from 56 percent in the survey conducted in September, to 49.5 percent in this month's report.
Among the poll's other findings:
- 33 percent of respondents said they believed their access to care would be worse if a health care overhaul occurred, a jump from 25 percent in the poll released last month. Thirteen percent said they thought they would have better access to care in a remade system, about the same as last month.
- 30.5 percent said their personal finances would be worse under a health care overhaul, compared to 24.5 percent last month. Eleven and a half percent said their personal finances would improve, compared to 14 percent last month.
- 35 percent said the country's access to health care would be worse under a health care overhaul, compared to 30 percent last month. Around 38 percent said it would be better, around the same as last month.
- 42 percent said the country's finances would suffer under a health care overhaul, compared with 34.6 percent last month. Thirty percent said matters would improve financially, compared to 32 percent last month.
"I don't know that it's all that surprising that people are nervous about health care reform," said Brian Quinn, a researcher at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports health care reform. "Health care is an incredibly personal issue and clearly there's a lack of understanding about what health care reform would do."
The Democratic bills would require all Americans to carry health insurance, with government help to make premiums more affordable. They would ban insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to people with health problems. They would set up new insurance markets for those who now have the hardest time finding and keeping coverage — self-employed people and small businesses.
The poll, a monthly status check on views about health care, also found that consumers' confidence in their health insurance coverage and ability to access care rose slightly in December.
Robert Wood Johnson's index of consumer health care confidence stood at 99.1 points in December, up from a reading of 96.9 in November. The index uses people's responses to a series of questions, such as whether they're worried about affording prescription drugs or going bankrupt from medical bills, to determine an overall confidence score.
The telephone survey of around 500 people has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
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