PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Health Care a Key Concerns of Voters, Survey Says
Second only to education, health care is the most pressing issue among California voters in this year's presidential election, according to a new poll released today. Conducted by the Field Institute and commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation as part of their new "HealthVote 2000" project, the survey of 2,514 California residents found that 42% of voters selected health care as a top priority compared to 52% who chose education. Children's health issues were of particular concern, as 70% of voters gave priority to providing children with access to care regardless of their ability to pay and 66% indicated that guaranteeing children access to basic, preventative health services was a top concern. Seniors health care also was named as a priority. Ensuring that Medicare remains financially sound was a priority for 65% of voters, while a similar number -- 64% -- identified access to affordable prescription drugs for seniors as significant. Sixty-one percent of voters indicated that it was "very important" that Medicare be expanded to include a prescription drug benefit. Voters also expressed strong support for shoring up Medicare: 69% favored tying Medicare benefits to a person's ability to pay and 64% favored using more of the federal budget for Medicare, even if it meant funding cuts for other programs (California HealthCare Foundation release, 2/17). Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said, "What we're seeing is that Californians are most concerned about those groups of people they consider most at risk, particularly children and seniors" (Howe, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17).
Access and the Uninsured
Many respondents also expressed concerns over the growing number of the state's uninsured residents and access to health care. Nineteen percent of respondents said they currently were uninsured and more 40% indicated that over the last two years either they or someone they were financially responsible for had gone without health coverage. In addition, 42% said they were "very concerned" that they or someone they knew would be without insurance in the near future. In an effort to expand coverage, 88% of voters favored a plan that would allow low-income individuals to buy into existing government insurance programs at a reduced cost. Expanding federal funding for public clinics and hospitals so low-income people could receive care at little or no cost was supported by 82% of voters. A plan to provide health care vouchers that allow low-income people to buy into private plans received the support of 65% of voters. Mark Smith, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation, said, "It is clear from these findings that Californians care about health care issues in this year's elections. If I were a candidate running for office, I'd pay close attention to the messages that these survey respondents are sending" (California HealthCare Foundation release, 2/17). He added, "We've got the best economy we've had in California in 30 years, but the uninsured rate is continuing to rise with no end in sight" (Sevrens, San Jose Mercury News, 2/17). Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, "Candidates will have to respond at some level. California is a political bellwether. If (health care) plays well there, it will also influence the congressional agenda" (Marquis, Los Angeles Times, 2/17).