What Do the People Want?

To the New York Times’s credit, they asked them. And this is what they found (from the beginning of the article, entitled “New Poll Finds Growing Unease on Health Plan”):

President Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray his overhaul plan as a government takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to choose their doctors and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that revamping the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills, and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatments and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month.

The article does cite several statistics from the poll, and does show several signs that are favorable to President Obama, including that the public overwhelmingly favors him over the Republicans when it comes to health care, and overwhelmingly thinks that he is trying to work with Republicans more than the converse. But the overall impression you get is that Americans are afraid of health care reform.

But are they?

Here are some of the raw numbers:

  • The government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans, by 55-38.
  • The government should “offer[] everyone a government administered health insurance plan,” by 66-27.
  • Insurers should have to cover anyone regardless of medical history, by 76-19.
  • It is true that 68% of people think that health care reform could limit their access to treatment; but 66% are concerned that without reform, they could lose coverage at some point.
  • Similarly, 76% think that health care reform could increase their taxes; but 75% think that without reform, the cost of their health care will go up.

It seems to me that on the most important issues, America is solidly behind the House versions of health care reform.

But although Americans favor health care reform, by 59-31 they think the current bill will not benefit them personally – presumably, as I’ve argued before, because they are under the probably-mistaken assumption that they currently have good coverage and will not lose it. Now, this does not necessarily mean they would not favor the bill. As Ezra Klein wrote a while back, the administration could have made the argument for reform in moral terms – society has a moral obligation to provide basic health care to all people, and if it costs the better-off among us a few bucks, then that’s the price we should pay. But instead, it went for technocratic arguments instead – we have to “bend the curve” of health care costs. (In 2007, people thought that universal coverage was more important than reducing health care costs by 65-31; after months of being told by both sides that it is costs that matter, universal coverage still wins by 53-43.)

So at this point, I think the key message has to be that health care reform is good for everyone (at least everyone under 65; those over 65 already enjoy the benefits of reform), because it protects you against the risk of losing your job and getting sick.

Originally published at The Baseline Scenario and reproduced here with the author’s permission.