With less than two months to go before Election Day, Americans are expressing concern about the viability of the Medicare system, a leading Republican plan to reform it, and whether President Obama’s health care plan will help them. This dour tableau affecting both parties is laid out in the latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
A full 68 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the proposition that “the Medicare program is running out of money and will have to change if it is to survive.” Respondents were slightly more optimistic when asked if “Medicare will pay enough benefits when I get older to cover all or most of my health care needs.” Fifty percent agreed with that statement, while 46 percent did not, and 4 percent refused to answer.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll appears most weeks when Congress is in session, giving the public a chance to weigh in on what Congress is doing and Congress a chance to hear from the people. This survey was conducted Sept. 7-9, with 1,012 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Lawmakers may be frustrated by the public’s contradictory opinions. While respondents were profoundly worried about the Medicare program, when asked what is more important, “taking steps to reduce the budget deficit” or “keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are,” a majority—51 percent—said they want to keep the programs as they are, while just over a third—34 percent—said that steps should be taken to reduce the budget deficit.
The survey revealed skepticism for the so-called Ryan plan to reform Medicare, crafted by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Respondents were asked which comes closer to their own view on Medicare: whether it should “continue as it is today” with the government “providing health insurance and paying doctors and hospitals directly,” or whether it should it be a system where the government “provides seniors with a fixed sum that they could use either to purchase private health insurance or to pay the cost of remaining in the current Medicare plan.” A whopping 67 percent of respondents wanted to stick with the original Medicare program, while only 27 percent were sympathetic to the Ryan-style plan.
Those numbers were virtually unchanged from March, when the same question was asked.
In an effort to better understand the public’s attitude toward the president’s health care law, the survey asked whom the law would help. Earlier editions of the survey found hostility toward the law and particular disdain for the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance.
The latest answers suggest that some of the resistance to Obama’s Affordable Care Act may also stem from Americans seeing it as being beneficial to others but not to themselves. For instance, 43 percent of respondents said that the law would make things better for “people like you and your family,” but 60 percent instead cited poor people who do not have health insurance as the biggest beneficiaries. A minority—45 percent—thought it was good for the middle class. Among white men without a college degree, a thorny group for Democrats, only 24 percent said the law would make their lives better and 62 percent said it would make their lives worse.
The cleavages in public opinion weren’t entirely surprising. Democrats were more supportive than Republicans of leaving Medicare as it is, although a slim majority of Republicans favored keeping it as is. In fact, no group by race, income, age, or region gave a majority of its support to reworking the Medicare plan to include a premium option.
This article appears in the Sep. 11, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.