As Democratic and GOP lawmakers continue to lumber around the health reform debate, Americans remain split on the legislation. The February Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds 43 percent of the public in favor of the current proposal, and 43 percent opposed. However, the poll also finds that Americans of all political leanings support different provisions in the health reform proposals in Congress, and most attribute delays in passing the legislation to political games rather than policy disagreements.

According to the poll, at least 6 out of every 10 Republicans, Democrats, and independents back at least some of the key provisions in the reform bills that have passed the House and Senate. However, the poll did find key differences of opinion that broke along party lines. Expanding Medicaid received majority support from Democrats and independents, but was deemed important enough to pass into law by a much smaller share of Republicans (34 percent). On the other hand, limiting malpractice lawsuit payments ranked second among priorities for Republicans, but barely cracked the top 10 for Democrats and independents.

When given a list of the various elements of health care reform, more than two-thirds of the public said it was either “extremely important” or “very important” that the following changes be passed into law:

  • Reforming the way health insurance works (76 percent)
  • Providing tax credits to small businesses (72 percent)
  • Creating a health insurance exchange (71 percent)
  • Helping close the Medicare “doughnut hole” (71 percent)
  • Expanding high-risk insurance pools (70 percent)
  • Providing financial help for lower and middle-income people (68 percent)

Measures to allow insurers to sell policies across state lines (50 percent) or to limit future increases in Medicare provider payments (46 percent) were at the bottom of the list, though they still received significant levels of support

Politics: The reason for delayed reform

Most Americans attribute the health care reform delays to political gamesmanship, with 59 percent saying the delays are “more about both sides playing politics” and 25 percent saying they are “more about Republicans and Democrats having disagreements.” This sentiment is echoed along all political parties, with 61 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Republicans naming political considerations as the primary reason for the delays.

The large majority of Democrats reported feeling frustration (68 percent) and disappointment (72 percent) about the legislation being stalled, as did a narrow majority of independents (51 percent frustrated and 53 percent disappointed). Most Republicans reported feeling “relieved” (59 percent).

Moving forward

After a long and intense debate, the public has mixed views about how quickly and comprehensively the government should move on reform, but relatively few want the matter to be dropped altogether. Overall, 32 percent of Americans hope Congress will send some version of the House and Senate’s comprehensive overhaul legislation to the president, and another 20 percent support passing only key provisions on which there is broad agreement. Another 22 percent would rather Congress put health care on hold and deal with other priorities, and 19 percent) would like to pull the plug altogether on health care reform efforts in 2010.

When all is said and done, 58 percent of Americans say they will be either disappointed or angry if Congress decides to stop working on health care reform. Thirty-eight percent say they expect to feel happy or relieved. The numbers are roughly reversed when the public is asked how they will feel if Congress passes reform, with 54 percent naming a positive emotion and 38 percent a negative one.

Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation, www.kff.org