A Public Plan (Cont’d.)

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Today’s NYT has a poll confirming what we saw last week in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Politicians may be deeply divided over the most contentious issue in the health care debate; the public is not. The poll found 72% in favor of “the government’s offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.” It won support even from half of those who identified themselves as Republicans.

Still, the NYT tells us, there are crosscurrents in how people feel about health care in general and how they feel about their own coverage. Those give us a sense of where opponents are likely to take their argument in the coming months–and why President Obama keeps reassuring Americans that if they like what they have, they can keep it.:

Yet the survey also revealed considerable unease about the impact of heightened government involvement, on both the economy and the quality of the respondents’ own medical care. While 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt, 77 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of their own care.

That paradox was skillfully exploited by opponents of the last failed attempt at overhauling the health system, during former President Bill Clinton’s first term. Sixteen years later, it underscores the tricky task facing lawmakers and President Obama as they try to address the health system’s substantial problems without igniting fears that people could lose what they like.

And there was more:

It is not clear how fully the public understands the complexities of the government plan proposal, and the poll results indicate that those who said they were following the debate were somewhat less supportive.

But they clearly indicate growing confidence in the government’s ability to manage health care. Half of those questioned said they thought government would be better at providing medical coverage than private insurers, up from 30 percent in polls conducted in 2007. Nearly 60 percent said Washington would have more success in holding down costs, up from 47 percent.

Sixty-four percent said they thought the federal government should guarantee coverage, a figure that has stayed steady all decade. Nearly 6 in 10 said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to make sure that all were insured, with 4 in 10 willing to pay as much as $500 more a year.

And a plurality, 48 percent, said they supported a requirement that all Americans have health insurance so long as public subsidies were offered to those who could not afford it. Thirty-eight percent said they were opposed.

In a follow-up interview, Matt Flurkey, 56, a public plan supporter from Plymouth, Minn., said he could accept that the quality of his care might diminish if coverage was universal. “Even though it might not be quite as good as what we get now,” he said, “I think the government should run health care. Far too many people are being denied now, and costs would be lower.”

While the survey results depict a nation desperate for change, it also reveals a deep wariness of the possible consequences. Half to two-thirds of respondents said they worried that if the government guaranteed health coverage, they would see declines in the quality of their own care and in their ability to choose doctors and get needed treatment.

“It is the responsibility of the government to guarantee insurance for all,” said Juanita Lomaz, a 65-year-old office worker from Bakersfield, Calif. “But my care will get worse because they’ll have to limit care in order to cover everyone.”

When asked their opinion of specific changes being considered in Washington, three-fourths of those surveyed said they favored requiring health insurers to cover anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. Only a fifth supported taxing employer-provided health benefits to help pay the cost of coverage for the uninsured. And there was deep uncertainty about whether employers should be required to either help insure their workers or pay into a fund for covering the uninsured.