The Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a helpful new tracking poll demonstrating that public attitudes on the health care are very susceptible to how the issue is framed. At first glance, the numbers would seem to be great news for liberals. For instance, by a 59 percent to 37 percent margin, Americans surveyed believe that the economic crisis makes it more important than ever to reform health care now, and majorities of Americans support at least some tax increases to pay for health care, mandates on employers to provide coverage, and a government plan option. Yet when the questions are asked a different way to incorporate criticisms of the various proposals, support for them drops dramatically.
For instance, when asked “Would you favor or oppose requiring employers to offer health insurance to their workers or pay money into a government fund that will pay to cover those without insurance?” 71 percent say they favor such an approach compared with just 25 percent who oppose it. Yet when Kaiser followed up by asking, “What if you heard that paying for this may cause some employers to lay off some workers?” 65 percent of those who initially said they supported the proposal decided they were opposed, while just 27 percent said they’d still support it.
When asked, “Would you favor or oppose creating a (government-administered) public health insurance option similar to Medicare to compete with private health insurance plans?” respondents supported the measure by a 67 percent to 29 percent margin. Yet if they were told that this would “give the government an unfair advantage over private insurance companies,” 59 percent of those initially inclined toward a government plan flipped, while just 32 percent were still in favor.
Also, as far as taxes are concerned, large majorities said they would strongly or somewhat favor some form of tax increases to subsidize health care for the uninsured, including increasing the cigarette tax (65% support) and raising taxes on those making over $250,000 a year (71% support). Yet, when it came to broad-based tax hikes, only 28 percent said they would support increasing income tax.
Taken together, what these numbers mean is that there is an opening for Republicans to erode public support for Democratic health care reforms if — and granted this is a big if — they can effectively articulate the consequences of the proposals being touted by Democrats. The reality is that a mandate on businesses is effectively a tax on employment that would cost jobs, having the government “compete” for business with insurers it regulates on a national insurance exchange will be unfair, and the massive cost of national health care (on top of all of the other spending Obama is proposing) will necessitate far broader tax increases than the ones currently being proposed for wealthier Americans.
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