As the president's poll numbers sink on the issue, two-thirds of Americans remain confused about the health reform proposals on the table.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's overall approval (56 percent) and handling of the economy (53 percent) are not much changed from last month. (Read more here.)
Americans are not only skeptical of Mr. Obama's handling of health care, but also of the effectiveness of reform. Americans are more apt to say the middle class and small business would be hurt, not helped, by the plans currently under consideration.
Still, the public continues to say the health care system does need reform, and that things will worsen if nothing is done. Americans strongly support government regulations on insurance companies, including cost controls and mandates for covering all applicants.
Anger and Skepticism
As angry protests erupted over health care at town hall meetings over the month of August, Americans in general became angrier on the issue.
One-third call themselves dissatisfied with the way the Obama administration is handling health care, and another 17 percent describe themselves as angry about it. Thirty-four percent are satisfied, and just 11 percent are enthusiastic.
Who is most angry? Conservatives (33 percent), Republicans (36 percent) and Americans age 65 and over (21 percent) are some of the most likely to say they are angry about the Obama administration's approach to health care reform. Meanwhile, in the president's own party, Democrats are more likely to be satisfied (55 percent) than to be enthusiastic (21 percent).
Nor do Americans think other groups in society would benefit from reform. More think the current reform proposals would hurt rather than help the middle class (the class most Americans say they're part of), seniors, and a key part of the U.S. economy, small businesses.
Specifically, Americans predict Congress' reform plans will cause costs to go up, quality of care to get worse, and the availability of doctors to decline. No more than one in five think Congress' current plans would make any of those areas better.
And there are also concerns about the financial impact of reform. While about half of Americans still feel reform is possible without increasing the deficit or raising middle-class taxes, more than four in 10 think that is not possible.
No Specific Complaints or Preferences
Despite the heated rhetoric from both sides of the aisle that has occurred over the last month, many Americans cannot volunteer anything they especially like or dislike about the proposals.
Asked if there's anything they like, 40 percent cannot name anything, the most-cited response; the second-most at 27 percent is that coverage would expand.
At the same time, many Americans cannot name something they especially dislike about reform. The most common specific answer, at 12 percent, is the threat of too much government.
Republicans (66 percent) think the protestors reflect the opinions of Americans as a whole, while Democrats do not (73 percent).
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Support for the so-called "public option" -- a government-administered health insurance plan - still finds majority support, though that support has been steadily dropping since June. In this poll, 60 percent favor it, with 34 percent opposed.
Support dropped the most among Republicans, from 49 percent in July to 35 percent now.
There is widespread approval for some other policy options. For instance, 72 percent approve of allowing the government to set limits on the amount that health insurance companies could charge people for premiums, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Seven in 10 also approve of providing subsidies to low income people to help them purchase health insurance from private insurers.
And most Americans - nearly eight in 10 -- continue to approve of requiring insurance companies to cover anyone who applies for health insurance regardless of whether or not they have a pre-existing medical condition.
Despite increasing skepticism about current plans, Americans agree on the need for reform, and think that in the absence of reform the health care system will deteriorate. Fifty-four percent think that if there are no government reforms, the health care system will get worse. Just 6 percent think it will get better on its own.
And as has been the case for many years, more than four in five Americans see the U.S. health care system as needing major changes - at the least. That view is held by Americans of all demographic groups.
The Politics of Health Care Reform
Even though the president's approval rating on health care has taken a hit, half of Americans still think he has better ideas than Republicans on reforming the nation's health care system. Twenty-three percent think Republicans have better ideas.
Looking ahead to the potential impact of health care reform on the 2010 elections, there are indications that a vote by a member of Congress in support of current proposals could end up being slightly more of a negative than a positive. One-third say the issue of health care would have no effect.
One-third of registered voters say they would be less likely to vote for their member of Congress if he or she supported the health care reforms now being proposed, while 29 percent would be more likely to vote for their representative if he or she supported the reforms.
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1097 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone August 27-31, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.