Democrats in Washington are navigating treacherous electoral terrain as they craft healthcare reform legislation, judging by new polls that show Americans pulled by conflicting desires on healthcare.
They are eager for change but hesitant about paying for it.
That's the tricky context as Congress takes steps toward possible passage of a sweeping reform of health insurance. On Tuesday, members of the Senate Finance Committee approved a proposal crafted by Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, under which the number of uninsured is expected to drop from 15 percent of Americans to 6 percent.
Asked which healthcare problem was most serious – keeping costs down or covering the uninsured – 59 percent of Americans said providing insurance, according to a CBS News poll. Only 35 percent chose "keeping health care costs down for average Americans."
Dollars and cents a dealbreaker?
But polls have found that such statements can be deceiving. Support for grand plans can tail off when people think in personal dollars-and-cents terms.
A CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this year, for example, asked whether they would support a program that insured all Americans, if it meant higher taxes. Some 57 percent said yes. But when the poll specified an annual tax hike of $500, support dropped to 43 percent.
That is only one aspect of Americans' complex – and often contradictory – views on healthcare reform. Others, collected on the website Polling Report, include:
• A majority of Americans say fundamental reform of the healthcare system is needed. In addition, nearly one-third say the system is so badly broken it should be scrapped and completely rebuilt. Only 15 percent say minor changes will suffice, according to the CBS news poll, taken Oct. 5 through 8.
• A sizable majority says Republicans aren't making a good faith effort to work with Democrats toward reform, yet a nearly equal number (57 percent) say Democrats shouldn't pass a bill that lacks bipartisan support, according to a Quinnipiac University poll completed Oct. 5. It remains unclear whether any Republicans will support final legislation, although Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine supported Senator Baucus's plan Tuesday in the committee vote.
• A majority supports key details of some of the plans before Congress – including the mandate to buy insurance and a possible "public option" alternative to private insurance firms. But when asked simply whether they support "health care reform plans being discussed in Congress" or "the way Barack Obama is handling health care," support falls below 50 percent, according to an Associated Press/Gfk Roper poll survey that concluded on Oct. 5.
America the skeptical
The Senate Finance plan and others in Congress would all require Americans to buy insurance, while providing aid for those with modest incomes and exemptions for some middle-income households who can't afford coverage.
President Obama has demanded that reforms should avoid adding "one dime" to the federal budget deficit over the next decade. But healthcare experts generally say the bills in Congress would have at best a modest impact on fast-rising medical inflation.
While Americans want reform, they are skeptical of what it will mean, the new CBS News poll shows. Thirty-one percent of Americans believe the legislation under review will hurt them personally, while only 18 percent say it will help them, and 45 percent see a neutral impact.
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