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CBS News poll: Most Americans favor a national health plan

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With 12 Democratic candidates lined up for Tuesday's debate, Americans who tune in are likely to witness another spirited debate on health care — at least if previous debates can be any predictor. A majority of Americans agree with many of the Democratic presidential candidates in favoring some type of national health insurance plan, though most Americans still like the health insurance they currently have and do not want private insurance to be replaced by a public option. 

Meanwhile, more Americans today approve than disapprove of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, though many — including most Democrats — now think the law didn't go far enough.

Fifty-six percent of Americans think providing access to affordable health care coverage for all Americans is the responsibility of the federal government, and two-thirds favor the creation of a national, government-administered health insurance plan similar to Medicare that would be available to all Americans. 


While such a plan is supported by almost all Democrats and two-thirds of independents, most Republicans don't think it is the government's responsibility to provide access to affordable health care, and most oppose this type of plan.


But few who favor a "Medicare for All" plan want it to become the only form of health insurance available. Six in 10 would want it to compete with private health insurance as a choice for those who want it, rather than replace all private insurance. Most Democrats hold this view as well. 


Overall, three in four Americans who have health insurance say they like the health care coverage they have. Most Americans say they like their coverage, whether they have private insurance, have insurance through Medicaid or a state or federal marketplace, or are covered by Medicare.


Americans remain divided over the signature health care legislation of the Obama presidency: the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Currently 47% of Americans approve of the law, while 41%  disapprove.


Views of the law divide sharply along partisan lines, much as they did when the law was passed nine years ago. Eight in 10 Democrats approve of the law, while eight in 10 Republicans disapprove. Independents are divided, though more approve than disapprove.


Approval of the law is similar to what it was two years ago, but 16 points higher than the all-time low of 31% recorded in November 2013, right after the law's much-criticized initial roll out. Approval is 10 points higher than when it was just before it was signed into law in 2010.


Back in 2013 — when support for the law was at its lowest — 42% of Americans said that the Affordable Care Act went too far in changing the U.S. health care system, while just 23% of Americans said it didn't go far enough.  Today these numbers are nearly reversed: far more Americans now say the law doesn't go far enough. 


A majority of Republicans — both then and now — say the law went too far, but there is a significant shift among Democrats. In December 2013, a plurality of Democrats said the Affordable Care Act was about right; today, two-thirds say the law didn't go far enough.


Large majorities of those who say the law didn't go far enough (87%), as well as those who think the law was about right (81%), favor the creation of a national, government-administered health insurance plan, though most in both groups want it to compete with private insurance, not replace it.

The Affordable Care Act finds a bit more support among the group most targeted to take advantage of its coverage: 60% of Americans who rely on either Medicaid or insurance from a state or federal marketplace approve of the Affordable Care Act, compared to 47% of Americans with private insurance and 46% of Medicare recipients. But support for the law seems more based on philosophical and ideological grounds: 80% of those who approve of the law think it is the federal government's responsibility to provide affordable health care to all Americans, while 65% of those who disapprove think this is not the government's responsibility. Most Americans — including most who approve of the law — say the law hasn't had much of an effect on them personally.

This poll was conducted by telephone September 26 to October 2, 2019, among a random sample of 1,292 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers. The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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