Policy

People Love Health Care Reform's Benefits As Long As They Don't Have to Pay For Them

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As I noted in a column last week, health care reform supporters have repeatedly noted that, despite polls showing a majority of the public opposes the Democrats' health care legislation, individual elements of health care reform poll well. The problem with using this as an argument for reform, of course, is that lots of things sound great when you fail to consider the costs and trade-offs; I'd love a brand new 70-inch flat panel television and a lifetime supply of Doritos, but I'm not getting either. And, as I argued in the column, there's good evidence to suggest that the public isn't interested in the trade-offs reform's benefits would require. A new Zogby poll seems to confirm this notion. From a summary in The Hill

The poll showed the the public is strongly in favor of some of their key components, such as forbiding insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, establishing a health insurance exchange marketplace, prohibiting women from being charged higher premiums and requiring most employers to provide health benefits.

These same respondents, however, demonstrated resistance to making tradeoffs in exchange for these benefits by stating their opposition to paying more taxes, instituting cuts in Medicare spending or being required by law to obtain health coverage.

System, heal thyself?

That wasn't the only bad news for health care reform advocates; Zogby also found that a majority of Americans want Congress to start over on the reform process:

In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party's approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.

Of the more than 2,500 people surveyed from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, 57 percent agreed with a statement that Congress should start over—which is exactly what Republicans are demanding and what President Barack Obama insists he will not do.

Of course, it's not clear what sort of revised and resubmitted reform plan Americans would support. As Philip Klein says, the public favors all sorts of health care benefits but isn't interested in any of the usual ways—higher taxes, changes to Medicare—to pay for them. You could make the Weisbergian point that this desire for benefits without cost is childish, or you could say that it's basically sensible—a reasonable willingness to reckon with the cost of benefits that might otherwise sound great. But either way, I think it shows one major reason why health care shouldn't be a centrally managed, consensus project, but instead should be left to individuals who can make their own decisions about what they're willing to pay for and what they're not.