Poll: Public Conflicted Over Health Reform

As President Obama continues to make his case for health care reform, most Americans agree the nation's health care system needs major change -- and most still support a government-sponsored health care option, according to a new CBS News/ New York Times poll. However, the poll shows, the public has concerns both about what will happen if the government does create a system of providing care, and also about what will happen if it does not.

Even though Congress is about to break for summer recess without agreeing to a plan, a majority of Americans thinks reform is likely by year's end, the poll shows. While they'd prefer Congress work in a bipartisan manner on health care reform, Americans don't believe Republicans currently are working with Mr. Obama to make that happen.

Mr. Obama gets much more credit for reaching across the aisle, as well as for having better ideas for reform, than Republicans do. Nevertheless, his scores on his handling of health care overall are not high.

The Impact of Reform

Most Americans -- 59 percent -- see health care reform as likely in 2009, although just 16 percent call it "very" likely. Four in 10 think it is not likely this year.

But with no single piece of health care reform legislation at the moment, many Americans don't see how they would personally benefit from the proposals currently under discussion in Congress. As many as 59 percent say those proposals -- as they understand them -- would not help them directly. Just under a third say current plans would.

As Americans look to the future, worries about health care abound -- whether the government acts on reform, or not.

Echoing the president's call for action, Americans widely worry that health care will worsen if the government doesn't act.

Three-quarters of Americans are concerned that their own insurance costs will eventually rise if the government fails to create a system covering everyone. Also, 66 percent fear they could someday be uninsured themselves without reform. Eighty percent of Americans also fret that the number of uninsured will rise if reform fails.

On the other hand, the thought of government action brings worries, too. The public is especially concerned that a government plan for full coverage would lead to job cuts (81 percent), and to a lesser extent that their own quality (69 percent) and access to care (73 percent) would go down. A majority of Americans, 62 percent, are concerned that they'd need to change doctors. Three in four are concerned their taxes will rise.

As many as 59 percent also expect to see added costs for most Americans as a result of the legislation currently under discussion in Congress, while just 15 percent think the legislation would decrease most Americans' health care costs.

(CBS)
Congress and the Politics of Reform

There are mixed assessments of the pace of the current debate. Mr. Obama's pacing is about right, according to 46 percent of Americans, though 38 percent call it too quick. Congress, by contrast, is seen by 39 percent as moving too slowly, with fewer, 33 percent, saying it is moving at the right pace.

Democrats have enough votes to pass a bill without Republican support, but the public overwhelmingly -- by 73 percent -- wants a bipartisan bill.

But at this point, Americans see only Mr. Obama -- not congressional Republicans -- reaching across the aisle. The White House is trying to work with Republicans on the issue, 59 percent say, but only 33 percent say Republicans are working with the president.

And by a two to one margin, Americans feel Mr. Obama has better ideas for reforming health care than congressional Republicans. Views on this are partisan, but independents side with the president.

But Mr. Obama's approval rating on handling the overall issue remains under 50 percent, at 46 percent. Sixteen percent still don't have a view yet. The president's overall approval rating, 58 percent, is unchanged since earlier this month.

Neither congressional party receives majority favorable marks overall. Democrats have seen a slight dip in positive assessments since the spring to 47 percent. Views of Republicans in Congress remain more negative than positive, by more than two to one.

Health Care Policy Preferences

A majority of Americans continues to support a government health plan option. Two-thirds favor the government offering everyone a health insurance plan like Medicare to compete with private health insurers, unchanged since earlier this month but down slightly since June.

(CBS)
Fewer Americans now -- but still a majority at 55 percent -- think the government should guarantee health coverage for all Americans. But a growing percentage -- 38 percent -- thinks this is not the government's responsibility.

Just over half the public thinks the government should require all Americans to be insured, up slightly from 48 percent in June. Just 38 percent of Republicans favor this requirement, while 71 percent of Democrats do.

Three in four Americans think that insurers should cover anyone who applies, regardless of any pre-existing medical condition.

Part of the debate over health care reform has been how to pay for it. While Mr. Obama has said that changes made to the U.S. health care system must not be financed by an increase in the federal budget deficit, Americans are divided as to whether this is possible -- 46 percent say it is possible while 48 percent think that it is not.

Nearly two thirds would support financing health care reform by raising taxes on high-income Americans. Even 59 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or more support this.

Health Care: Defining the Problem

Americans continue to think the health care system needs an overhaul.

Eight in 10 say major reform -- at a minimum -- is in order. Forty-nine percent think the system needs fundamental changes, and another 33 percent think there are so many things wrong with the U.S. health care system that it needs to be completely rebuilt.

When asked specifically whether keeping costs down or covering the uninsured is the higher health care priority, more Americans -- 53 percent -- choose covering those without insurance. However, the percentage interested in keeping costs down has risen since June to 43 percent.

There are, however, large partisan differences. Seventy percent of Republicans think costs are more serious, while 71 percent of Democrats choose covering the uninsured.

As the health care debate continues, more Americans have paid attention to the issue. In this poll, 32 percent say they have heard or read a lot about it, up from 22 percent in June.

Read the Complete Poll (PDF)

More from the CBS News poll released Wednesday:

Poll: Obama Not Blamed For Economy

Poll: Public Conflicted Over Health Reform

Poll: Many Blacks Say Police Treat Them Unfairly

Poll: Americans Want Deficit Reduced

Video: Polling Director Sarah Dutton Discusses the Poll



This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,050 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone July 24-28, 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.