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Pollsters: Tenn. Republicans prefer state exchange

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A majority of Tennesseans — including nearly three-quarters of those identifying themselves as Republicans — prefer a state-run health insurance exchange over one run by the federal government, according to a polling team at Vanderbilt University.

About 53 percent of the 829 registered voters who participated in a recent poll said they favor having a state-run marketplace, and 33 percent said they prefer that the federal government handle exchange services.

Seventy-two percent of the Republicans surveyed said they support the state-based approach to the exchanges required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

About 31 percent of the Democrats and 59 percent of the independents said they prefer a state-based approach.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, decided earlier this week not to pursue a state-run exchange.

States can’t opt out of the insurance exchange program. They can decide whether to run exchanges themselves, defer to the federal government or work with the federal government to create a “partnership” exchange.

Vanderbilt officials said the governor was not aware of the poll results before Wednesday’s release. Haslam’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The governor on Monday cited a lack of flexibility for the state along with a dearth of details from the federal government in deciding against creating a state-based exchange. He had long acknowledged that getting the GOP-controlled Legislature to approve it would have been an uphill battle, but denied that political considerations had entered into the decision.

Meanwhile, a pending decision over whether to expand Medicaid was much more evenly divided among poll respondents: 47 percent said they support an expansion, while 46 oppose it. Haslam has said he would decide the Medicaid issue sometime in the spring, though expansion would also face a chilly reception in the Legislature.

Vanderbilt political science professors John Geer and Joshua Clinton, who co-directed the poll, said parts of the survey reflect the difficulty in asking about highly politicized issues. For example, Clinton said nearly 60 percent of poll participants said they did not know enough about PPACA to have an opinion about the law.

“If you asked, ‘What do you think about Obamacare?’ for example, we would have gotten much different answers,” he said. “So how do you ask that question in a non-ideological, nonpartisan way?”

Seventy-three percent agreed with a provision of the health care law that allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26 years old, but only about 40 percent approve covering people with pre-existing conditions. Only 35 percent said they would support raising the eligibility age for Medicare as a way to reduce the federal deficit.

The poll conducted on landlines and cellphones between Nov. 27 and Dec. 9 had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.


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