While individual elements of President Obama's healthcare reform law are still popular, Americans continue to be deeply divided over the measure itself.
Congress may have passed a sweeping health reform law, and President Obama may have signed it. But voters across America are uncertain about what it all means, and are deeply worried about the future of medical care--especially their own.
Health care reform is an unsettled issue in the minds of most Americans. That's true regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on challenges to the new law.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 36 percent of voters nationwide think the president's health care plan is a good idea. That means a solid majority of the electorate--64 percent--think the plan is either a bad idea (45 percent) or are unsure about it (19 percent). Moreover, nearly half of those polled (49 percent) would like to see the law repealed; 42 percent oppose repeal.
Illustrating public frustration with Washington, the poll also showed that a majority of voters (52 percent) expect the Supreme Court's ruling to be primarily based on politics, while less than one-third (32 percent) think it will be decided mostly on the underlying legal issues.
Not only is health care an unsettled issue but for many it is personally unsettling as well. A recent CBS/New York Times survey showed that a majority of voters (52 percent) believe the new health care law will increase their health care costs, while only 15 percent think it will lower them. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll found that more Americans expect to be worse off under the new law than better off.
On the politically potent issue of cost, there is considerable public discomfort across party lines with the current medical malpractice system and the effects of defensive medicine. A national poll that my firm, Clarus Research Group, conducted in late April for Common Good, the nonpartisan government reform coalition, found:
A strong majority of voters--75 percent--believe "lawsuits and legal fees are a major cause of high medical insurance rates." Eighty-nine percent of Republicans, 76 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Democrats agree on this.
Sixty-eight percent agree that "plenty of good doctors are leaving the practice of medicine because of the number of lawsuits and the cost of liability insurance." Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats, and 61 percent of independents agree.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of voters polled say they believe that "fear of being sued is causing doctors to order unnecessary medical tests and procedures just to protect themselves from possible lawsuits." Seventy-five percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents, and 59 percent of Democrats are on the same side.
Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of voters support the idea of creating special health courts to decide medical claims. Only 25 percent say those claims should be decided as they are now. There is virtually no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue: 68 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents support health courts.
Clearly, health care isn't going away as an issue anytime soon. Smart politicians should be responsive to Americans' concerns and move ahead with new ideas to improve the system--especially in the area of lowering the costs of medical care.