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Obamacare not at top of voters' minds as Election Day nears

A person walks into a UniVista Insurance company office where people are signing up for health care plans under the Affordable Care Act in Miami.
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A person walks into a UniVista Insurance company office where people are signing up for health care plans under the Affordable Care Act in Miami.

Obamacare is getting a lot of headlines this week, but it's not looking likely to swing the presidential election.

A new survey finds that health care ranks very low among voters when asked their top issues in considering who to cast a ballot for in less than two weeks.

And even when asked about health-care priorities for the next president and Congress to address, fewer people mentioned either repealing Obamacare altogether or weakening the law than mentioned other issues, the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found.

Reducing the cost of prescription drugs, making sure health plans had large enough networks of doctors and hospitals, and protecting people from high prices if they went to an out-of-network provider all polled much higher when people were asked their health-care priorities for elected officials.

At the same time, public opinion on Obamacare is dead split, with 45 percent of people saying they view the Affordable Care Act favorably, and the same percentage saying they few it unfavorably, according to the Kaiser poll.

As always, Democrats heavily favored the law, and Republicans were overwhelmingly against it.

"More than six years since the passing of the ACA, it appears that most Americans have largely stable attitudes towards the law, with few being persuaded from their opinions after hearing arguments for and against it," the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a report on the poll's results.

The same poll found that a majority of voters said they understand Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's plan for health care as president, while only half of respondents said they understood Republican nominee Donald Trump's plan.

And the poll also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents favor creating public health insurance options to compete with private insurance plans sold on government-run Obamacare marketplaces. A public option would be a government-run health plan.

However, Kaiser's poll also found that "how the proposal is described and labeled affects the level of support," according to a report on the results.

Support was higher, 70 percent, when respondents were asked whether they favored or opposed creating a "public health insurance option." But when they were asked about creating a "government-administered public health insurance option," support fell to 53 percent, according to Kaiser.

The poll released Thursday comes three days after the Obama administration revealed that average premium prices for a closely watched type of Obamacare plan are set to rise by an average of 25 percent in 2017 for plans sold on the federal insurance exchange HealthCare.gov. Many other Obamacare plans will likewise have double-digit percentage increases.

The administration noted that many Obamacare customers qualify for financial aid that lowers their premium payments, and can completely shield them from annual price hikes if they shop around for lower-priced options.

But Republican critics of the law, including Trump, seized on the news as further proof that Obamacare is failing and needs to be repealed and replaced with new legislation.

The Kaiser poll, which questioned 1,205 adults, was conducted from Oct. 12 to 18, before the release of the 2017 Obamacare prices. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The poll found that voters rate who the candidates are, the economy and jobs, and foreign policy as their top three issues when considering who to vote for. The order of how they rated those issues depended on their political affiliation.

Health care was just the fifth most important issue for Democrats, with 9 percent of them rating it so. Republicans put it in sixth place in terms of importance, behind immigration and social issues, with only 5 percent rating it their top issue.

Among independents, health care was named as a top issue by just 6 percent.

When asked by Kaiser pollsters if they wanted the entire law repealed by the next president and Congress, just 37 percent of respondents said they did. And only 38 percent said they wanted the president and Congress to repeal the mandate compelling Americans to have health insurance of some kind or pay a tax penalty.

Eight other priorities related to health care polled higher in the survey.

Among them were "helping people with moderate incomes pay high out-of-pocket costs for care," which drew 44 percent of respondents.

The top priority for 74 percent of respondents, was "making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable to those who need them." In second place, with 63 percent of respondents, was "government action to lower prescription drug prices."