HEALTH REFORM -- February 24, 2011 at 3:23 PM EDT
Poll: 1 in 5 Americans Believe Health Reform Was Repealed
More than one in five Americans incorrectly believe that the health care reform law has been repealed, and another 26 percent aren't sure, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll released Thursday.
The NewsHour talked to Kaiser Foundation president Drew Altman about why that is, and his take on what it means for supporters and opponents of reform. (Answers have been edited for space and clarity).
NEWSHOUR: Tell us about what you found this month, in your ongoing monthly poll?
DREW ALTMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE HENRY J. KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: The thing which was a little bit surprising was the discovery that a significant percentage of the American people either thought that the health care reform law had actually been repealed, or just didn't know or weren't sure. If you put those two categories together [it was] almost 50 percent, while another approximately 50 percent knew that it was still the law of the land.
So that was the surprising finding, that people just couldn't distinguish between what was a dramatic but still symbolic repeal vote, just in the House of Representatives, and an actual repeal of the health reform law.
NEWSHOUR: How do you explain this misunderstanding?
DREW ALTMAN: Well, I think it's understandable. First of all, people are busy, and they're reading headlines about repeal and they don't have a lot of time to dig deeper. Second of all, a lot of us who follow policy issues spend a lot of time on the details of the legislative process, but average Americans should be more than excused -- especially now with the bad economy -- if they don't follow the details of the legislative process and how it actually works.
I think also there's some wishful thinking going on here, because we did find that Republicans were more likely to believe the law had been repealed, and Democrats were less likely to think the law had been repealed.
I actually got the idea to ask this question on our poll when I was getting my hair cut. The person that cuts my hair said, "Gee, the health reform law has been repealed! I know you work on that issue -- that's a very big deal." And I said, "How'd you get that idea?" and she said, "Oh, I read it somewhere in the local newspaper."
NEWSHOUR: Were there any significant differences, or changes in public opinion, that you found in this poll?
DREW ALTMAN: Nothing dramatic. Generally, if you step back, the big picture on public opinion and health reform is largely unchanged. We've seen basically the same thing since the early debate about whether there should be a health reform law -- basically, a public divided along very traditional partisan and ideological lines about health reform in general, and about the health reform law. And really if you want to press the rewind button, you can go all the way back to the Clinton health reform debate and see the same basic dynamic in public opinion. So there's this sense in Washington of real movement in public opinion on health reform. But the public is essentially where it has always been on health care reform, and that is divided along very traditional partisan lines.
The one thing that we have seen in the last couple of months is that opposition from seniors, who are an important group because they vote, has kicked up a little bit. Not to levels we haven't seen before, but it has ticked up a little bit.
NEWSHOUR: There have been some parts of the health reform law that have been really supported by the public and some parts that there has been strong opposition to. What are they, and have those changed?
DREW ALTMAN: Virtually all of the coverage expansions in the law, the measures in the law that will expand the Medicaid program or provide tax credits to cover the uninsured, and all of the insurance reforms that will eliminate the worst abuses in the health insurance system, are incredibly popular with the American people. Most of the major provisions in the legislation are extremely popular.
The one provision, and it's the one which is at the heart of the court cases right now, which is not popular, is the so-called individual mandate -- the requirement that everybody purchase health insurance coverage, which experts believe is critical to make the law work by spreading risk so that healthy people help subsidize the sicker people in the insurance pool. And that's never been really popular with the American people, though it has worked in Massachusetts. And that's understandable, people don't like mandates. They don't like to be told do anything. And we see that in our polling.
NEWSHOUR: So what does all of this mean for the political efforts around the health care bill?
DREW ALTMAN: One finding in the poll that is very relevant to the current policy discussion is the set of findings about defunding the law, or robbing implementation of the law of its funding so it can't move forward. And there we've found very solid public opposition to the Republican efforts to defund implementation of the law. And the main reason is just that the public doesn't think that's how Washington should work. They somehow think that's not playing by the rules. And so, there isn't public support for that as a strategy to prevent health reform from moving forward.