Public Opinion, Research Show Support for Health Care Reform

If polls, petitions and research briefs produced policy, the United States would probably be well on its way to major health reform by the end of the summer.  A slew of recent public interest polls, research papers and petitions point to overwhelming agreement that the country’s health system needs an overhaul.

There is less agreement on how to do it and how to pay for it, but there is general consensus that something needs to change. The flurry of polls and research comes as Congress begins deliberation on competing reform bills.

Research by the California Public Interest Research Group released in early June and a Field Poll released later in the month indicate widespread, bipartisan belief among Californians that the state and nation would benefit from major health reform.

The CALPIRG research paper, titled “Putting America Back to Work,” contends that reducing and controlling health care costs could allow the creation of 2.5 million jobs over a five year period — about 200,000 of them in California. Reform also would yield stronger economic growth over the long term, researchers said, increasing California’s gross domestic product by $215 billion in 2030.

According to Mike Russo, CALPIRG’s health care advocate, “this research sends a simple message to those in Washington who are more concerned about partisan politics than getting things done: Stop playing politics, and let’s move on to the nuts and bolts of health reform. With the economy in the state it’s in, we need to move quickly.”

Californians Reform-Minded

A Field Health Policy Survey released in June found that 71% of California voters — Democrats and Republicans combined — believe the nation’s health care system needs significant overhaul or restructuring.

Californians might be more primed for health reform than residents in other parts if the country, according to Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. For more than two years, health reform was at the top or near the top of the state’s agenda as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the Legislature worked on a statewide reform plan that eventually fizzled.

CALPIRG’s Russo agreed, saying Californians have been ready for change for quite some time.

“There’s not a huge amount of disagreement,” Russo said. “I think most people agree the costs of health care in this country are dragging down the rest of the economy, and we really can’t afford to have that happening right now, … if we could ever afford it.”

“With that said,” Russo added, “there are definitely some groups who disagree about how to go about doing that. We have to work toward not allowing those disagreements to derail reform,” Russo said.

Because of California’s geographic and demographic size and economic clout, the state might have a bigger stake in national health reform than other states, Russo suggested.

“We’ve got, in many ways, the most to gain from reform and the most to lose if it doesn’t happen,” Russo said. “We stand to gain in personal and public wealth if we move toward comprehensive changes.”

The CALPIRG estimates on job growth and increased GDP in California are derived from the recent national report, “The Economic Case for Health Reform,” prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The White House report concluded that a reduction in the growth of health spending of 1.5 percentage points could allow a .24% drop in unemployment consistent with no inflation for each year it occurred. A .25% drop in national unemployment means 500,000 jobs a year.

The report also concluded that a less costly, more efficient health system will allow the national economy to grow more rapidly, yielding an 8% increase in the GDP by 2030.

Petition Signors Agree

Comprehensive health care reform would help revitalize the economy and remove a major barrier to long-term dynamic growth, according to a petition signed by 330 economists and health leaders released by the Institute for America’s Future.

The petition, “Health Care for All: We Can’t Afford Not To Act Now,” reads in part:

“Some have argued that we cannot afford health insurance coverage for all because of the economic crisis. But solving America’s big health care problems is essential to economic recovery. We need to cover everyone now as part of comprehensive reform to rebuild our economy and restore prosperity. Affordable coverage with good benefits will give cash-strapped lower and middle-income Americans greater financial security — and the ability to pay their mortgages, start small businesses, save for college, pursue new job opportunities, and make other choices that will benefit our economy.”

The petition, aimed at “the new president and Congress,” concludes:

“We agree with President Obama: we can’t afford NOT to reform our health care system. It is more important than ever that the new president and Congress take steps to reform the system so that it offers quality affordable health care coverage to all Americans in an efficient manner.”

Other Polls

In addition to the California polls and research, several other polls released recently in other parts of the country show a majority of Americans are ready for health reform with a major goal being providing coverage for an estimated 46 million Americans with no health insurance.

A sampling of findings includes:

  • A New York Times/CBS poll found 85% of respondents want major health care reforms and most would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure everyone had health insurance. A clear majority (72%) said they backed a government-administered insurance plan similar to Medicare for those younger than age 65 that would compete for customers with the private sector. Only 20% said they were opposed to a public plan.
  • Nearly 75% of respondents in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll said they support the idea of a public health insurance plan.
  • A poll released in Michigan found that health care worries weigh heavily on Americans. Nearly half of those polled in a University of Michigan survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said they’re worried about paying for future care. About one in four said they worried they might lose coverage in the next year. About the same number reported they or a family member delayed seeing a doctor in the past year because of what it might cost.

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