Public Continues to Support Health Care Reform, but Needs Clarity on Congressional Bill

President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address doubled down on his commitment to health care reform, which disappointed conservatives who were hoping he’d run away from that commitment. And he left conservatives fuming about his claim that the health care reform plan in Congress suffered from a lack of clear explanation. How can he say that, the conservatives argue, when recent events like the Massachusetts Senate election show that voters have rejected the whole idea of comprehensive health care reform?

But the Massachusetts Senate election showed no such thing. In a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post/Harvard Public Health follow-up survey to the Massachusetts election, voters in that election were asked their views on the Massachusetts Universal Health Insurance Law, a law “assuring that virtually all Massachusetts residents have health insurance.” Massachusetts voters said they favored that law by 68-27, and even conservative Scott Brown’s supporters backed the law by 51-44.

As for Obama’s claim that the public is not well informed about the health care reform bills and would support these bills more if they were clearly explained, he seems to be on very secure ground according to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking poll. In that poll the public’s reaction to 27 different elements of health care reform legislation was tested, and in 22 of those cases the public had a net positive reaction, with more people favorably inclined toward the measure than unfavorably inclined.

Below are the 10 most strongly supported features of the legislation: tax credits to small businesses (73 percent said they were more likely to support legislation with this provision compared to 11 percent who said were less likely); health insurance exchange (67-16); won’t change most people’s existing health care arrangements (66-10); guaranteed issue of coverage despite pre-existing conditions (63-24); Medicaid expansion (62-22); extend dependent coverage through age 25 (60-22); help close the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole (60-21); increased income taxes on the wealthy (59-24); subsidy assistance to individuals (57-24); and reduce the deficit (56-20).

But much of the public—exactly Obama’s point—does not know these provisions are in the reforms bills that passed the House and the Senate. According to the same poll, among the provisions above that were tested, lack of awareness ranged from a high of 56 percent for closing the doughnut hole to a low of 28 percent for subsidizing individuals. For most provisions, around 40 percent or more of the public was unaware the provisions were in the legislation. I guess Obama does know what he’s talking about and, as usual, conservatives don’t.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.