If you read the news headlines on health care recently, you might get the impression that most people are more worried that President Obama will succeed in getting health care reform enacted than that he will fail.
The day after President Obama’s news conference last week, the Washington Post’s page one headline blared: “Obama seeks to calm fears on health care.” The New York Times interviewed people in one of the most Republican counties in the nation and concluded in a front page lede: “President Obama sought to convince an increasingly skeptical American public that proposed changes to the health care system would benefit them and strengthen the economy.”
The headlines run contrary to the constant demand for health care reform that many of us have been hearing from people across the country for many years. In nearly every national poll over the last ten years , health care has been a top-tier concern. If you actually talk to people out in the country, health care concerns are on the top of their minds. Most Americans tell pollsters they are satisfied with the quality and accessibility of their own health care, but this does not mean they feel safe that things will stay that way. Scratch the surface of their satisfaction and you uncover fear that nothing is secure when it comes to health care: you hear stories of friends or relatives who have become destitute or have gone untreated for illnesses because they have lost health coverage somehow.
It is this insecurity that I believe is behind most polls showing clear majorities supporting President Obama’s efforts to change the way health care is delivered in the country. Our firm, Belden Russonello & Stewart, conducted a national survey last week to gauge if Americans really are worried about health care in the future.
The BRS national random digit dial survey of 800 adults, from July 20 to 24, found that:
- 72% of adults are worried that if someone in their family becomes seriously ill their health insurance might not cover enough of their medical bills. Nearly half the country — 47 % — is very worried about inadequate health coverage.
- 65% worry that if they lose or change jobs they might lose their health insurance and not be able to afford new health insurance. Again, close to one out of every two Americans — 46% — is very worried about losing health care.
- 60% say they worry that if someone in their family becomes seriously ill their health insurance might drop their coverage. 41% worry very much.
- 56% worry that if they lose or change jobs they might not be able to get new health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Nearly four in ten –38% — worry about this very much.
When you consider that the June 2009 national survey by the AP/GfK reported 35% of Americans worry being victims of terrorism, you can easily conclude more Americans now fear their health insurance company than they do Osama Bin Laden.
The BRS poll last week also found that overall 62% of Americans favor President Obama’s efforts to create comprehensive changes in the health care system. About four in ten — 45% — feel strongly in favor. One in three (33%) Americans opposes what the president is trying to do.
Support for the plan reaches far beyond liberals and Democrats, as 65% of independents and 66% of political moderates favor what Obama is trying to do. A substantial 44% of each of these groups strongly supports his efforts.
One statistic from the BRS poll provides even more evidence that anxiety about the future rather than immediate concerns is driving support for comprehensive health care reform: younger Americans more firmly embrace comprehensive reform than their elders. Over two-thirds (67%) of Americans under 45 years old support Obama’s health care reform efforts, compared to 56% of those over 45. It is not just that Obama is more popular with young people. When you account for political affiliation and ideology, age is still an important consideration in support for reform.
This is why when I read headlines that say Americans fear health care reform, I am thinking, which Americans? Maybe reform is risky for some insurance company CEOs, some hospital big shots, and the Chamber of Commerce. For the rest of us, it is a matter of eliminating the risk of health care that may be out of reach in the future.
So far, President Obama has chosen not to use fear as a weapon to pass health care reform. As refreshing as this it is, Obama would benefit from at least reminding Americans of the insecurity they feel about the future of health care.
Update: full questionnaire here