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Support For Health Law Remains Steady While Opposition Drops

Jul 29, 2010

The percentage of people who view the new health bill unfavorably dropped 6 points to 35 percent in the past month, but that has not translated into a significant increase of supporters, according to the July tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Overall support remained stable since the June survey, with about half the public expressing a favorable view of the overhaul, the poll found.

Seniors, a key target of both political parties this election season, tend to view the new health law more negatively than adults overall; however, they also are unaware of many of the Medicare provisions in the overhaul and have been left with erroneous perceptions by the bitter legislative debate, according to the survey, which was released today.

About 38 percent say they support the law, while 46 percent of seniors view it unfavorably -- a drop of 10 points since April.  Twenty percent of seniors said they would be better off with the changes and 37 percent said it will make no difference in their lives.

Half of the seniors said they understood accurately that the overhaul would eventually close the gap in their out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare drug, called the doughnut hole, and that Medicare premiums will increase for high-income seniors. But only a third knew that under the new provisions, they will no longer be responsible for co-payments and deductibles for many preventive care services.

Still, half of the seniors erroneously said that the law will cut benefits for those in traditional Medicare and more than a third said that a federal government panel will "make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare."

The arguments about "death panels" surfaced about a year ago when opponents of reform complained about a provision in the bill that would allow Medicare to pay doctors to talk with patients about end-of-life planning. That uproar nearly derailed the bill and the provision was removed. 

How "would seniors' views about the law change if they did not have these misperceptions and were better informed?" asked Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation in a commentary released with the poll today. "We can't say for sure. What we can say is that as we move from a combative legislative debate to what is likely to be an equally heated election season; seniors’ misperceptions and lack of knowledge about some key elements of the law remain profound."

But Altman also points out that seniors are not likely to vote solely on the issue of health care. The June Kaiser tracking poll found that about 13 percent of seniors said they would vote based on a candidate's record on the health bill. "A district would have to have a very close race, lots of seniors who vote, few other competing issues, and a candidate who succeeds in making his or her opponent’s vote on health reform a hot issue for senior’s votes on health reform to play a significant role in a race," he wrote.  (note: KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation.)

Among the overall public, about a third of the respondents said their family would be better off under the overhaul, another third said it would make no difference to their situation and 29 percent said they would be worse off. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said the law should be repealed.

Since June, there have been slight declines in the percentage of people who said they were "disappointed," "angry" or "anxious" about the new law.   

The decrease in the number of people viewing the law unfavorably was coupled with an increase of 4 points in the respondents who said they don't know their opinion or didn't want to respond.

The telephone survey of 1,504 adults was conducted from July 8-13 and included responses from 406 people over the age of 65. The margin of error for the full poll is +/- 3 percentage points and 6 percentage points for responses by seniors.

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