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Voters clueless about bills: report

By Carol Gentry
1/26/2010 © Health News Florida

Americans who say they don’t support the health reform bills pending in Congress change their minds when informed of  the major provisions of the bills, according to an analysis of public attitudes by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The 16-page report shows that despite a year of media saturation coverage of the health-reform debate, knowledge of what is actually in the bills pending in Congress is scant. It indicates that voters aren't actually looking at what is in the bills, but are being swayed by what they hear.

“It’s one thing to talk about the public’s perception of health care reform legislation, which right now is in some ways negative, but it’s another to tell people what’s actually in the bill," said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman. “When you do that, people are more positive.”

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) is a non-partisan funder of health research and sponsors a news service, Kaiser Health News. (Disclosure, KFF is among the advertisers at Health News Florida).

The surveys for the KFF study found a strong correlation between attitudes about the pending bills and the respondents' political affiliations: Two-thirds of Democrats said they support the legislation, three-fourths of Republicans said they oppose it, and independents were evenly split, given the margin of sampling error.

Independents were far more likely than Republicans to express support for covering the uninsured, and were more concerned than Democrats about the price tag.

While only 15 percent of poll respondents said they expected the legislation to reduce the deficit, that increased to 56 percent after hearing the results of Congressional Budget Office reports.

When information about key elements of the bills was provided:

--73 percent became more supportive when they heard that tax credits would be available for small businesses that want to offer coverage.
--67 percent became more favorable when they heard about the plan for health exchanges.

--63 percent became more positive when they heard that the bills would no longer permit health insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

--60 percent were more supportive when they heard that the bills would close the Medicare prescription-drug coverage gap, often called the “doughnut hole.”

The foundation said that of 27 elements of the reform package described to poll respondents, 17 made them look more favorably on the legislation.

Among those that caused a swing in a negative direction were hearing the total cost – at least $871 billion over 10 years – and the requirement that individuals carry coverage, called the “individual mandate.”