There are many surveys that are looking at whether Americans are willing to pay for health reforms: in particular, to cover the uninsured. This is a conceptual question: we don’t really know how people will really feel once they are mandated by tax law or other mechanism to reach into their pockets. Still, it’s instructive to take a look at the range of possibilities.

The Kaiser Public Opinion Data Note of July 2009 looks at “Footing the Bill” for health reform. KFF examines the plethora of polls’ questions on willingness to pay for expanding coverage, from CBS/New York Times, Quinnipiac (the political polling group at Q University), NBC/Wall Street Journal, CNN/Opinon Research Corporation, and KFF’s own survey. Across the surveys, except for KFF’s, there’s roughly a 50/50 split between people willing versus not willing to pay for expanding health coverage to the uninsure.

“Gee, that’s helpful,” you mock.

Looking under the respective polls’ kimonos, there are nuances to note: question wording varies, and poll timing, too.

The more specific the question, KFF finds, the more definitely the public responds. For example, the CBS/NY Times poll asked whether “you approve or disapprove of taxing employer paid health insurance benefits, or are you unsure?” The split? 20% of Americans in favor of taxing, 46% opposed to taxing employer-paid health beneits. But over 1 in 3 (34%) are “unsure.”

The one overwhelming majority response to a question across the KFF survey data in the June 2009 poll was whether Americans were in favor of, “increasing income taxes for all who pay income taxes.” The responses: 29% favor, 67% — against.
But increasing taxes on the rich (families with >$250K a year), on smokers and alcohol drinkers? That’s all right with 2 in 3 Americans (68%).

Health Populi’s Hot Points: At the end of the day, 3 in 5 Americans think it’s possible to ‘do’ health reform without spending any additional funds. “This feeling that change could come without pain likely makes Americans less likely to back anything with a price tag,” KFF foresees.

This chart details the just-released data on job losses in June. Note that the downward trend we saw in job losses in May is now reversed – nearly one-half million jobs were lost in June, which will surely lead to the uneasy feeling among American consumers that the recession has not yet hit bottom.

This unease and concern about job security will bolster the KFF forecast that Americans generally would like health reform to be a zero-sum spend. However, there’s a countervailing reality that may play against this: that job insecurity roughly equals health insurance insecurity. Many Americans have connected the dots between keeping a job and holding onto insurance. Still, the so-called “jobless recovery” is also a “wageless recovery” as the most recent end-of-recession was, the average American taxpayer won’t perceive they’re able to pay more out in taxes to cover the uninsured.

“We try to walk you through the thicket of findings” of the polls, KFF introduces the Data Note. “Thicket” indeed!

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