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The Insurance Mandate Conundrum

by Clive Riddle, December 9, 2010

Harris Interactive has just released results from a poll, in conjunction with Health Day, taken post-election that measures current public opinion of health care reform  (the survey involved 2,019 adult respondents online between November 19-23.)

In Harris Interactive’s words, “Americans remain deeply divided over the nation's new health-care reform package.” Certainly a plurality (40%) want to repeal all or much of the legislation. But just as polls consistently show that while American’s hate Congress in general, they typically support their own congressman; this poll indicates much of the specifics of health care reform are rated much higher than the package in general.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll, tells us "many Americans want to repeal the bill not because they dislike the specifics, but because they feel it is an expensive expansion of an already big government…. Pluralities want to repeal all or most of the law, but want to keep much of what's in it…. it's easy to believe all the bad things about the law if you don't know what's in it."

Expanding on that last point, Sara Collins, vice president for Affordable Health Insurance at The Commonwealth Fund, tells us "I think this suggests that as the public becomes more familiar with the law and how it will benefit them and their families, support will probably climb. There's just a lag while immediate provisions are rolling out like young adult coverage."

But here’s the rub: the public really, really doesn’t like the insurance mandate provision, and time probably won’t improve opinion in that area. So if the a Republican House feels pressure to take some action regarding health reform, given the unlikelihood of pushing through an outright repeal through a Democratic Senate or overcoming the President’s veto, their point of attack would be the insurance mandate.

Yet the mandate is the one provision that helps the more publicly popular provisions, such as guaranteed issue and adult dependent coverage, pencil out a little better (by decreasing adverse selection) for the health plan industry that in many cases lobbied for the Republican party in November. So the party that health plans wished for may cause them to remember the phrase, be careful what you wish for.

Here are some of the poll results by the numbers:

  • 40 percent of adults wanting to repeal all or most of the legislation;  31 percent favor keeping all or most of the reforms; 29 percent aren't sure what should be done.
  • 57% oppose the insurance mandate and only 19 percent support it
  • Two-thirds of respondents like guaranteed issue provision (prohibiting denial of coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.)
  • 60% want to keep the provision for tax credits so small businesses can afford coverage for employees. 
  • 55% like provision allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26. 
  • Just over half of respondents support the idea of new insurance exchanges where people can shop for insurance.
  • 81% believe reform will it result in higher taxes, could lead to rationing of health care (74%), and reduce the quality of care they will receive (77%).

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