With President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in limbo, Americans' fears about its effect on them eased in January, according to a poll released as the president tries to revive sweeping Democratic legislation.
The monthly poll from the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also found that three-fourths of Americans still think it's important that Obama include health care reform in addressing the nation's economic crisis — even if many have misgivings.
"Job numbers continue to lag and nearly a quarter of Americans are still concerned they might lose coverage," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the foundation, a philanthropic and research organization that supports health care reform.
The poll found that the proportion of Americans who said they feared their access to doctors and hospitals would get worse under the Democratic plans dropped to 29 percent, from 33 percent who had expressed such concerns in December. In the January poll fewer than 12 percent said that they thought their access would improve.
Obama's plan — and the Democratic health care bills — would extend coverage to around 95 percent of Americans — up from about 84 percent today. They would require most Americans to carry health insurance, with government help to make premiums more affordable.
Insurance companies would be barred from denying coverage to people with health problems. New insurance markets would be created for small businesses and people who buy their own coverage, but Americans covered through large employers would not see major changes.
That plan — or something very close to it — appeared to be only a step away from Obama's desk until Jan. 19, when Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Democrats lost their 60-vote Senate majority, and the ability to override Republican objections to the bill. Health care overhaul slipped into congressional limbo, and has been stuck there ever since.
The poll, taken Jan. 3-Jan. 26, coincided with Brown's upset victory and the reversal of the health plan's fortunes. But it was not possible to tell from the data if that led to the shift in public opinion on access to care.
On other measures, pessimists tended to outnumber optimists on health care overhaul.
- Nearly 31 percent said they thought the Democratic bills would make their personal financial situation worse, compared with 10 percent who said it would improve their family budgets.
- Forty-two percent said the nation's fiscal condition would suffer because of the legislation, compared with 26 percent who said it would get better.
- Americans were divided on whether the Democrats' approach would improve overall access to health care around the country, with 35 percent saying it would, and nearly that many disagreeing.
The telephone poll of about 500 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It also found a slight improvement in consumer confidence in their health insurance coverage and their ability to get the care they need.
Obama: Repeal Health Insurers Antitrust Exemption
Separately, the White House said Tuesday that President Obama supports stripping the health insurance industry of its exemption from federal antitrust laws.
The House will soon vote on legislation to repeal the health insurance industry's decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws, a measure strongly supported by Democrats. However, prospects in the Senate are unclear. Industry analysts say losing the exemption would not have a major effect on the way health insurance companies do business.
Obama has called congressional leaders of both parties to the White House on Thursday for a health care summit to revive stalled legislation that would expand coverage and bar insurers from denying benefits to people with health problems.