WASHINGTON – The popularity of Medicare for all soars when people hear it would guarantee health insurance as a right.
It becomes a political loser if people think it would lead to treatment delays.
That’s according to a new survey from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which found broad support for incremental approaches to nationalizing health care, including letting some people buy into Medicare or Medicaid.
Even a majority of Republicans surveyed support opening the government-run health care programs – designed for the elderly and for the poor – to some who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.
Despite the attention the issue has gotten, even Democrats would prefer that Congress focus first on improving and protecting the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
About half of Democrats said that should be the focus of their party’s new House majority compared with 38 percent who prioritized passing Medicare for all.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled her priority when affirming on her first day that House Democrats would defend the ACA against the latest legal challenge from Republicans.
“The new Democratic House of Representatives will be relentless in defending protections for people with pre-existing conditions and affordable health care for every American,” Pelosi said.
Less than half of those surveyed are aware that a federal judge in Texas ruled in December that the ACA is invalid. The law remains in place as Democrats appeal that decision.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research group, has tracked views on a national health plan for two decades. About four in 10 surveyed in 1998 backed a single government health plan for all Americans.
Support has modestly ticked upward, particularly after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made it part of his rallying cry during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The idea remains popular among the growing crowd of Democrats eyeing a 2020 presidential bid.
Democrats, who took control of the House after midterm elections in which they campaigned extensively on health care, plan to hold hearings on Medicare for all.
The hearings will not be conducted by the committees with primary jurisdiction over health care but by those that write the federal budget blueprint and set the rules for floor debates.
Pelosi cautioned that Medicare for all needs to be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits.
In fact, public opinion can shift dramatically depending on how the idea is framed.
A slight majority – 56 percent – surveyed by Kaiser backed the idea of all Americans getting insurance from a single government plan. Support shot up to 71 percent, and opposition fell to 27 percent, when respondents were told Medicare for all could “guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans.” Levels of support and opposition flipped when respondents were asked their views if the proposal would “lead to delays in people getting some medical tests and treatments.”
Views were more negative than positive if Medicare for all would eliminate private health insurance companies, would require most Americans to pay more in taxes and if it would threaten the current Medicare program. Respondents viewed it very favorably if it would eliminate all health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health care costs for most Americans.
The survey found majority support for more incremental moves to a nationalized system:
- 77 percent – including 69 percent of Republicans – favor allowing people to buy health insurance through Medicare once they turn 50. (The federal government’s insurance program for the elderly begins at age 65.)
- 75 percent – including 64 percent of Republicans – favor allowing people who aren’t covered by their employer to buy insurance through their state’s Medicaid program. (Eligibility for the jointly run federal and state health care program for the poor and disabled varies by state.)
- 74 percent – including 47 percent of Republicans – favor a national government plan like Medicare that is open to anyone but would allow people to keep the coverage they have.
The telephone poll was conducted Jan. 9-14 among 1,190 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of error is +/-3 percentage points.
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