Despite the contentious debate over health care reform, the public is unclear on the present regulatory state of health care. When asked about the degree of regulation in the health care market, 23 percent of Americans believe the market is “very regulated” 41 percent believe it is “somewhat regulated” 18 percent believe it is not very regulated, and 11 percent believe it is “not at all regulated”.

The public is also divided over whether the current degree of regulation is sufficient or excessive. 33 percent believe the market is overregulated, 39 percent believe it is under-regulated, and 18 percent believe it is regulated about the right amount.

Americans are also divided over how particular forms of regulation impact the health care market. For instance, when asked if Americans were allowed to buy health insurance from providers in any state, 43 percent believe premiums would decrease, 23 percent believe rates would stay the same and a quarter believe rates would increase.

Americans recognize some of the ostensible effects of regulation in the health care market. For instance, when asked how a provision in the new health care law requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance would impact hiring and pay, 58 percent said it would cause employers to pay their employees less and 47 percent said it would cause employers to law off workers.  Yet, 39 percent said it would have no significant impact on hiring decisions and 30 percent said it would not have a significant impact on workers’ pay.

On issues receiving a sizable amount of media attention and public discussion, majority consensus emerges. For instance, 54 percent of Americans believe that it is likely the new health care law will lead to government rationing of health care services, which means some forms of medical care would not longer be covered because it is too costly, not essential, or has too little chance of success. 33 percent believe it is unlikely.

Although the public recognizes the ostensible affects of particular forms of health care regulation, it is unclear to them how regulation as part of the new health care law may interact with innovation. 38 percent of Americans do not believe the new health care law will have a significant impact on  innovation in health care and medical research, while equal numbers (24 percent respectively) believe the law will increase and decrease innovation.

These results have important implications for economists and policymakers making their multifarious calls for health care reform. They would be wise to better articulate how provisions in the new health care law and other proposals for reform will impact competition, prices, choice, access, and innovation in the health care market.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 10th-20th of both mobile and landline phones, 1200 adults, margin of error +/- 3%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here.

Full poll results found here.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.