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Americans widely divided over what to do with health care

The next president of the United States will have a tough time not angering people if he or she tries to make changes to the nation's health system.

A new poll shows big divisions between Americans when they are asked what elected officials should do to change the U.S. health system.

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But the Kaiser Family Foundation poll also showed significantly more support for changes that would be considered liberal or left leaning, than for those that would be considered conservative. The poll questioned 1,202 people in mid-February, and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The poll found that 36 percent of Americans said policymakers should build on the existing Obamacare law "to improve affordability and access to care," according to Kaiser's report issued Thursday. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton favors that approach.

The second most popular option was establishing guaranteed universal health coverage through a single government plan, which 24 percent of respondents said they favored. Clinton's leading opponent for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, favors such a so-called single-payer option for the health-care system.

When only Democrats are considered, the poll found that Clinton's approach of improving on Obamacare was favored by 54 percent, compared to the 33 percent who favored Sanders' approach.

Just 16 percent of all Americans want lawmakers to repeal the Affordable Care Act outright, and not replace it with another health-care law.

And only 13 percent favor repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Republican-crafted alternative. In other words, only 29 percent of the public agrees with one of the two options that are favored by the leading Republican candidates for president.

Despite their fervid opposition to the ACA ever since it became law in 2010, Republicans in Congress have found it impossible to agree on a replacement plan for Obamacare, much less to pass a bill for repeal or replacement that would be able to survive a veto from President Barack Obama, or any other Democratic president.

The ACA mandated that nearly all Americans have some form of health coverage or pay a fine. The law also barred insurers from denying coverage to people because of pre-existing medical conditions, and created government-run marketplaces that sell private individual insurance plans to people who do not have health coverage from their employers or from a government program like Medicare and Medicaid.

Congressional Democrats have been criticized by more liberal members of their party for not passing a law that would create a single-payer health-care system for all Americans. Such a program, sometimes called "Medicare for all," would have the government take the place of insurers in providing health coverage to all Americans.

Kaiser's poll found that about half of all respondents said they favored a single-payer program, while 43 percent of people opposed such an idea.

However, the poll also found that 20 percent of the people dropped their support of a single-payer system when they were told such a plan would require many Americans to pay higher taxes, or that it would "give the government too much control over health care."

Opponents of single-payer were much less likely to change their opinion after being given additional information by the pollsters. But about 1 person in 10 original opponents said they would support single-payer if they heard it would ensure that all Americans have health insurance as a basic right, or that it would cut insurance administrative costs and that it would eliminate all private insurance premiums and out-of-pocket payments.