Americans' views of health care steady this year

By Alan Fram
Associated Press Writer / December 22, 2009

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WASHINGTON—The public's views on health care have stayed largely steady this year, despite dramatic swings in the political battle over President Barack Obama's drive to revamp the nation's medical system, a survey says.

Overall, 82 percent say an overhaul of the nation's health care system is important for recharging the economy, according to an average of monthly polls conducted since April by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The most recent survey, covering November, found that 77 percent agree with that connection.

Personal concerns have remained fairly constant as well. About one in four people worry they might lose their health coverage in the next year, while almost half say they are concerned they might not be able to afford care for themselves or a relative.

"Peoples' health care concerns are most affected by their personal circumstances, and not as much by what's going on in Washington," said Brian Quinn, a researcher with the foundation, which generally supports the goals of a health overhaul.

Reshaping the nation's health system has been Obama's top domestic priority this year, but it has run into near-unanimous Republican opposition and an expensive lobbying war involving health care providers, business, labor and other groups.

After months of maneuvering, Senate Democrats have won the backing from lawmakers they will need to push the health package through the chamber this week. Passage is expected to be unanimously opposed by the Senate's 40 Republicans.

The House approved its version of the legislation last month. House-Senate bargainers will have to strike a compromise and push it through Congress before Obama can sign it.

In the latest poll, about six in 10 said a health care overhaul won't affect their personal access to health care or their family finances. About four in 10, though, say a revamping will improve access to care in the nation overall, while about three in 10 think it will help the country's financial status.

Support for the link between a health overhaul and the economy drops among whites and the better off.

While 95 percent of minorities agreed with that connection, just 74 percent of whites said so.

Among income groups, 85 percent of the lowest one-third of earners say a health overhaul is important for fixing the economy, compared to just 74 percent of the top third of earners.

The poll also found that the Robert Wood Johnson index of consumer health care confidence fell slightly to 96.9 last month, near its 2009 average of 98.9. That reading had hit 104.4 points in October, a surge researchers attributed to better economic news and Senate progress on health care at the time.

The latest foundation poll was conducted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 23 and involved telephone interviews with 508 randomly chosen people. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.