Public narrowly divided on health reform

A Harris Poll released March 26 shows only a narrow gap between those who oppose the two-year-old health law (41 percent) and those who support it (36 percent). A sizable portion of people (23 percent) still are unsure if they support or oppose it, even as large numbers of respondents said they aren’t sure what is and isn’t in the law.

Harris also found that, when asked about specific important elements of the law, very few people want to repeal those provisions, with one notable exception: the individual mandate requiring that all people must purchase health insurance. Of the 2,185 adults surveyed, just more than half (51 percent) support the individual mandate’s repeal, while only 20 percent remain in favor of it.

In general, the poll, conducted March 16-20, found a lack of a thorough and broad understanding of the basic components of the law, while also finding significant numbers of people continue to believe that certain elements are included in the law that aren’t.

Notably, when asked about six important elements of the bill, large numbers of people (from 66 percent to 37 percent) are not sure if they are or are not part of the bill. Modest majorities correctly believe the following are in the law:

  • Not allowing insurers to deny coverage to people because they are sick (54 percent);
  • Allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26 (55 percent); and,
  • That all employers with more than 50 employees must offer their employees affordable coverage (51 percent).

Significant minorities, however continue to believe the law contains certain provisions that aren’t included in the law, including:

  • A new government run health plan (36 precent);
  • New ways to ration care (31 percent);
  • A cut in Medicare benefits (29 percent); and,
  • Panels to decide what care very sick, older patients should receive – the so-called "death panels" (27 percent).


As a result of these findings, and in conjunction with the results of earlier polls and surveys, Harris concluded that most of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act is not based on what is actually contained in the law and instead reflects a general hostility toward President Obama and the fears of conservatives that he and the Democrats are intent on expanding the federal government’s role.

Further, Harris said that due to the broad scope and complexity of the law, “it seems to be easier for critics to attack it with sound bites, broad generalizations about the expansion of government and ‘socialism,’ then it is for defenders of the bill who tend to focus on the details of the bill itself.

“These poll findings suggest that the supporters of the bill need to do a better job of describing and explaining the specific benefits of the bill to the public, not just as taxpayers and citizens, but as consumers of healthcare services,” the survey report said.

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