A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds Americans oppose the health care remake 50 percent to 39 percent. Before a divided Congress finally passed the bill and Obama signed it at a jubilant White House ceremony last month, public opinion was about evenly split. Another 10 percent of Americans say they are neutral.
Disapproval for Obama's handling of health care also increased from 46 percent in early March before he signed the bill, to 52 percent currently - a level not seen since last summer's angry town hall meetings.
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Nonetheless, the bleak numbers may not represent a final judgment for the president and his Democratic allies in Congress.
Only 28 percent of those polled said they understand the overhaul extremely or very well. And a big chunk of those who don't understand it remain neutral. Democrats hope to change public opinion by calling attention to benefits available this year for seniors, families with children transitioning to work and people shut out of coverage because of a medical problem.
Seniors - reliable voters in midterm congressional races - were more likely to oppose the law. Forty-nine percent strongly opposed it, compared with 37 percent of those 64 and younger. Seniors apparently worried about cuts to their federal medical benefits, and that could represent a formidable challenge for Democratic congressional candidates this fall.
Analysts said the level of public wariness on such a major piece of social legislation is unusual.
"The surprise of this poll is that you would expect people to be more supportive of the bill now that it's the law of the land - and that's not the case," said Robert Blendon, a Harvard public health professor who follows opinion trends on health care. "The election for the House is going to be competitive, and health care is clearly going to be an issue."
The nearly $1 trillion, 10-year health care remake would provide coverage to nearly all Americans while also attempting to improve quality and slow the ruinous pace of rising medical costs.
Nonpartisan congressional budget analysts say the law is fully paid for. Its mix of Medicare cuts and tax increases, falling mainly on upper-income earners, would actually reduce the federal deficit. And people covered by large employers may even see a dip in their premiums.
The public doesn't seem to be buying it.
Fifty-seven percent said they expect to pay more for their own health care, contrasted with 7 percent who expect to pay less. And 47 percent said they expect their own medical care to get worse, compared with 14 percent looking forward to an improvement.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. It involved interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide on landline and cellular telephones. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.