Public support for health care reform in the United States has weakened
following an August congressional recess marked by contentious town-hall
meetings around the country during which critics voiced concerns about the
cost and the large government role that such legislation is expected to
Growing opposition is borne out in numerous public-opinion polls, including
an August tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Among the findings of
the nationally representative monthly phone survey of more than 1,200 adults
was that support for major health reform declined from 62 percent in February
to 53 percent in August, while opposition rose from 34 percent to 42
The public's cold feet could stem from growing concern about health care
reform's costs and impact on them and their families. For instance, the Kaiser
poll found in February that only 12 percent thought they would be worse off
after reform, but in August, 31 percent thought that would be the case.
Thus, shortly before Congress resumed deliberations over health care
reform, a substantial portion of the population appeared unwilling to pay the
cost they believe it will entail. While 55 percent of respondents to the
Kaiser survey said they would be unwilling to pay more in either insurance
premiums or taxes to cover health care reform, 42 percent were willing to
accept additional costs as the tradeoff for a more comprehensive health care
The public resistance to paying for more widely available health insurance
coverage predates the current legislative fight to enact health care reform.
An August Health Affairs article by researchers who examined public
opinion in January found that while most people supported expanding access to
health coverage, only a minority was willing to pay for coverage expansions.
The Internet-based survey of 3,344 U.S. adults found that the only specific
revenue-raising proposal that drew a bare majority of support was an increase
in federal income taxes to expand Medicaid to cover half of the uninsured
population, estimated to be about 47 million.
Attendees at a town-hall meeting in Northern Virginia last month argue
passionately both for and against health care reform legislation pending in
Credit: Rich Daly
Meanwhile, the decline in public support for major health care reform has
led reform advocates to plan campaigns to convince the public about the value
they see in overhauling the health system (see
MH Groups Intensify Efforts to
Pass Health Care Reform).
Those efforts could be critical to spurring Congress
toward enacting health care reform legislation this fall, a target set by
Organizing for America, the reconstituted campaign organization of Obama,
launched a nationwide bus tour earlier this month to spur passage of health
reform legislation with stops in 11 cities—the last stop was in
Washington, D.C., as Congress returned from its summer recess. Health Care for
America Now, an umbrella organization of groups pushing for comprehensive
health care reform, coordinated with the national Democratic Party to hold
about 2,000 pro-reform events from late August to mid-September.
Also, mental health advocacy groups are urging their members to continue to
contact their congressional representatives and speak out in support of a
comprehensive overhaul that includes mental health provisions.
"If we want to be taken seriously, we need to be part of the process
where members of Congress hear from their constituents," said Andrew
Sperling, J.D., director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance on
Mental Illness (NAMI), in an interview with Psychiatric News.
Sperling said September is a "critical stage of the process" to
enact reform legislation. Members of Congress returned from recess after
hearing what voters in their districts thought about the various reform