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Like Congress, Americans Split Over Health-Care Reform

MONDAY Dec. 6, 2010 -- Americans are still deeply divided over the nation's new health-care reform package, with 28 percent of adults wanting to repeal the legislation while 31 percent favor keeping all or most of the reforms.

Another 29 percent aren't sure what should be done.

Those are several key findings in a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, taken three weeks after the November elections that saw Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives with a pledge to dismantle -- or, at the very least, curtail -- the controversial legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in March.

But the poll revealed an interesting paradox: Large percentages of even those people who want the law repealed are happy with many of its provisions.

"Pluralities want to repeal all or most of the law, but want to keep much of what's in it," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. "As we showed in the last Harris/HealthDay poll, it's easy to believe all the bad things about the law if you don't know what's in it," he added.

Two-thirds of the poll's respondents said they like the fact that the reform package prevents insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. Another 60 percent want to keep the provision for tax credits so small businesses can afford coverage for employees. Fifty-five percent like the idea that the law allows children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26. And just over half support the idea of new insurance exchanges where people can shop for insurance.

Only one part of the new law is widely unpopular: the stipulation that people without health insurance buy it or face a penalty. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents oppose this and only 19 percent support it.

Ambivalence towards parts of health-care reform appeared even among those who said they would like the legislative package repealed. For example, 44 percent of this group said they would like to keep the provision that bars insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, and 38 percent favor offering tax credits to small businesses to help pay for employees' insurance.

Most of those who want to repeal all or some of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act said they think it's an unwarranted expansion of big government that will lead to "higher taxes," "rationing" of health care, and possibly even "socialism."

Eighty-two percent of opponents think the law is a "government takeover of the health-care system"; 81 percent feel it is "too expensive" and "will mean higher taxes"; 77 percent believe it will reduce the quality of individuals' health care; and 74 percent believe it will lead to a "rationing of health care." Seventy-one percent call it a "form of socialism."

"This squares with other recent polls that are showing a split in overall public support for the law, but with majorities in favor of specific provisions allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 and helping small businesses pay for insurance coverage," said Sara Collins, vice president for Affordable Health Insurance at The Commonwealth Fund in New York City.

Experts such as Thomas R. Oliver, professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, hope that understanding of the 2,500-page law will improve as time goes on.

"There's a substantial gap in the general public understanding, [but] the more informed people are, the more they understand," Oliver said. "They'll realize they have a connection with problems experienced by millions of Americans."

Meanwhile, provisions of the law are rolling forward, and by 2014 most of the major pieces will be in place, at least according to the legislation's timeline, Collins said.

"Right now it is the law of the land and the provisions are rolling out," she said.

The poll was conducted online within the United States from Nov. 19- 23, and included 2,019 adults aged 18 and over. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

More information

Read more about the poll methodology and findings at Harris Interactive.

Posted: December 2010


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