Bipartisan healthcare summit: What the public thinks

The presence of television cameras at the televised bipartisan healthcare summit Thursday makes it inevitable that Democrats and Republicans will try to address the nation at large. Here’s what the US public thinks about the issues.

Frances M. Roberts/Newscom/File
US public attitudes toward healthcare reform remain mixed, giving both Democrats and Republicans hope that they can use Thursday’s televised healthcare summit to win voters to their side.

On the eve of a potentially pivotal moment in the debate over healthcare reform, US public attitudes toward the effort remain mixed, giving both Democrats and Republicans hope that they can use Thursday’s televised healthcare summit to win voters to their side.

For President Obama and his Democratic congressional allies, the good news is that polls show strong support for many of the individual provisions of their healthcare bills, such as preventing insurers from excluding people with preexisting health conditions. (For more information on the healthcare proposal that Mr. Obama put forward this week, click here.)

But when it comes to the bills as whole, polls generally show an even split, or a negative attitude. And voters clearly have been turned off by the mudslinging, special deals, and all-around ugliness of the Great Washington Health Debate of 2009-10.

As polling expert Nate Silver wrote this week on his popular blog, “The overall [healthcare] package fares poorly not because of concerns about the presence or absence of certain individual measures, but because people are exhausted and turned off by the process and have vague and ill-informed concerns about what the bill would do.”

In many ways, the public will be the unseen third party at Thursday’s event. The presence of television cameras makes it inevitable that Democrats and Republicans will try to position themselves for the nation at large.

By some measures, the public is almost exactly split on the issue. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, released Tuesday, found 43 percent of respondents in favor of healthcare-reform legislation and 43 percent opposed.

Some other results are less favorable to the administration. A Rasmussen survey released this week found 56 percent of respondents opposed to the legislation and 41 percent in favor.

As to Obama’s own efforts on healthcare, the verdict can be even worse. A CBS/New York Times poll released Feb. 11 found that 55 percent of the people surveyed disapproved of the way Obama is handling healthcare, while 35 percent approved.

But as Democrats are quick to point out, many of the individual goals and provisions of their healthcare-reform bills are quite popular.

Some 76 percent of respondents to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation survey believed that it is very important to reform the way health insurance works, by measures such as preventing the exclusion of those with preexisting conditions and eliminating caps on lifetime benefits.

And it is not just Democrats who support insurance reform. About 64 percent of self-described Republicans felt the same way, according to Kaiser.

Other things on which majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and political independents agree include the establishment of exchange marketplaces where individuals can purchase insurance, and the expansion of insurance pools geared to high-risk insurees.

“While the intense debate over healthcare reform has divided the public, it looks like there is bipartisan support on at least some elements of health-reform legislation, and more bipartisan support outside the Beltway than there is inside,” said Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman on Tuesday.

For many, cost remains a major concern. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey released this week found that 42 percent of respondents said America’s fiscal condition would suffer if the bill passed, compared with 26 percent who said it would get better.

And many Americans are worried about Washington increasing its influence. In the Kaiser survey, 80 percent of those who said they oppose the health bill listed “the legislation gives government too big a role in the health care system” as the major reason for their stance.

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