Americans Divided, Confused on Health Reform Law

John Commins, April 22, 2010

Eight in 10 Americans know that President Obama signed the health reform legislation into law, but 55% say they are confused about it, and 56% say they don't understand how it will affect them personally.

That's according to a new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll issued today, the first such poll conducted by Kaiser since the passage of the healthcare reform laws last month.

The survey of 1,208 adults, conducted April 9-14, finds that the public supports many of the provisions of health reform that are set to be implemented in the short term. When asked about 11 specific provisions scheduled to take effect this year, in each case a majority of Americans viewed them favorably, often with bipartisan support.

Still, the public remains divided on the law overall, with 46% viewing it favorably, 40% unfavorably, and 14% undecided. Similarly, 31% of Americans say they expect personally to be better off because of the law, 32% say they will be worse off, and 30% say they don't expect to be affected. The national telephone poll included 801 landline interviews, and 407 cell phone interviews. The poll was carried out in English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

"People are struggling to understand how the law will affect them and their families and to separate fact from political spin," said Kaiser President/CEO Drew Altman.

The new law includes provisions that take effect this year so that the public will feel immediate tangible results. The poll tested the popularity of many of these early measures and finds widespread support for them, including from Republicans and independents.

For example; nearly nine in 10 Americans favor tax credits for small businesses to provide coverage for their workers, and eight in 10 favor provisions for access to basic preventive care with no copayments, provide financial help to seniors who hit the doughnut hole gap in Medicare drug coverage, and prohibit insurance companies from dropping people with major health problems. In each of these cases, at least two-thirds of Republicans and independents join most Democrats in viewing the provisions favorably.

The poll found that 55% of Americans are confused by the health reform law, with 61% of those who aren't in favor of the reforms expressing confusion, and 44% of those who support the reforms expressing confusion.

Anger is reported by 30% of the public, including16% who say they are "very angry." Asked what about health reform made them angry, that 30% divided as follows: 9% did not like the way the policymaking process worked, 7% did not like the final content, and 12% did not approve of either.

Cable television news was the biggest source of information about healthcare reform for all respondents, regardless of their political leanings. More than one third (36%) cited cable TV news stations and their Web sites as their most important outlet, followed by network news (16%), newspapers (12%), friends and family (10%) and the radio (9%).

Republicans were more likely to name cable TV as their most important news source, with 45% saying so compared to 30% of Democrats. Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans and independents to say that they got most of their information from network news (23% of Democrats compared to 12% of the other two groups).

Overall sentiment about the new law breaks sharply along partisan lines. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats favor the new law, while about as many Republicans do not, a mix similar to that seen before the bill's passage in March. Independents tilt against the law—46% opposed compared to 37% in favor—while self-described moderates favor the measure 55% to 31%.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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