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Most Americans Oppose GOP Plan To Cut Medicaid

May 25, 2011

Most Americans oppose the House Republicans’ plan to overhaul and slash funding of Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers 56 million low-income people, according to a poll being released today.

About 60 percent of Americans want Congress to keep Medicaid in its current form with the federal government guaranteeing coverage and setting minimum benefits for states to follow, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Just over half said they didn't want to see funds cut. (KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation.)

Opinions varied along party lines, with 79 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans saying they preferred to keep the Medicaid structure "as is."

House Republicans in April voted to convert Medicaid from an open-ended program in which the federal government pays about 60 percent of the cost of services, into a federal block grant. Each state would get a fixed sum of money and states would have the freedom to decide who to cover and what services to provide — an effort Republicans said would cut federal spending by $1 trillion over the next decade.

Under the GOP plan, Republican leaders said the vote — which also included transforming Medicare into a voucher-style program that would limit federal funding – showed that they were serious about reining in spending and shrinking government.

Congressional Democrats oppose the Republicans' plan and said it would lead to millions more people without health insurance and the changes in Medicare would shift major costs to the elderly.

The GOP House plan has no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. But Republicans hope some of their ideas could advance as part of the talks between Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to get an agreement to lift the debt ceiling. It could also play a role in the upcoming presidential campaign.

Medicaid is a federal-state partnership that mostly covers low-income children and parents and disabled people. It also covers two-thirds of nursing home residents.

The House plan would also repeal a Medicaid coverage expansion to low-income adults included in the 2010 health law. That provision is expected to add 16 million adults to Medicaid starting in 2014.

The Kaiser telephone survey of 1,203 adults, conducted May 12 through May 17, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The poll found public support for Medicaid was similar to that of Medicare and Social Security — two programs whose longstanding public support has made them nearly untouchable by politicians.

Just 13 percent of Americans say they would support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of Congress’ efforts to reduce the deficit, the Kaiser survey found. That compares to 10 percent supporting major reductions in Medicare and Social Security.

Strong public support of Medicaid appears a dividend of many Americans either receiving assistance from the program or knowing a family member or friend who has. While 56 million Americans are enrolled in Medicaid at one time, about 69 million are enrolled at some point during the year as people go in and out of the program.

About half of respondents say they or a friend or family member has received Medicaid, and a similar share say the program is important to their family. Among the one in five respondents who personally have been covered by Medicaid, 86 percent reported a "very" or "somewhat" positive experience, the survey found.

"If you watch the debate about the deficit and entitlements, you would think that almost everyone has a problem with the Medicaid program and wants to change it, or cut it – or both," Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement released with the poll. "The big surprise in this month’s tracking poll is that one group who does not want to cut Medicaid is the American people."

Still, respondents acknowledged Medicaid has its problems.

About a third of respondents who have been on Medicaid say they have had problems finding a doctor. That compares with 13 percent of those currently covered by private insurance who say they’ve had problems finding a physician who accepts their insurance.

The Kaiser Poll is not the first to find opposition to cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

About 80 percent of registered voters, including 70 percent of tea party supporters, strongly oppose cutting the programs, according to a poll conducted in April by McClatchy-Marist poll.

A standard question on the monthly tracking poll is opinion about the health law in general. The May survey found that 42 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion and 44 percent are opposed, a statistically insignificant change from last month. Some who are opposed want the law expanded, others want it repealed.

Seniors continue to be more skeptical than the general public; 53 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of the law, 36 percent favor it and 11 percent said they didn't know or refused to answer. In April, 45 percent of seniors disapproved, 31 percent approved and 24 percent didn't know or refused to answer.

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