In her HuffPo post on President Obama’s SOTU, health policy analyst Linda Bergthold explains the President’s health reform strategy going forward, and concludes that he is holding well enough. Bergthold also does a particularly good job of putting reform in context of current public opinion:
…A majority of Americans do want reform. They just don’t know what comprehensive reform means, do not understand what is actually in the bills that passed the Senate and the House, and have been led to believe a number of distortions of the proposed reforms.
A recent Kaiser Tracking Poll, conducted after the Massachusetts special election, revealed that when asked if they supported the current reforms, the public was split on the general question: 41 percent said they did not and 42 percent said they did. However, when asked about specific elements of reform and whether or not if these elements were included in the reform packages they would be more likely to support reform, the public had a very different answer. About two-thirds supported 18 of the key elements in the reform legislation that has already passed the House or the Senate (see 8 of those elements below). So, when details were pointed out about what was actually in the reform legislation, more people supported reform than when they were simply asked a general question about support or opposition.
In another analysis of support for reform vs. awareness of it, only a little over half of the respondents could estimate correctly if the element they liked was actually in the reform plans…And a NBC poll in August, in the heat of the summer Town Halls, found that approval for health reform went up significantly when people learned more about what was actually in the reform packages.
Bergthold presents a revealing chart from the Kaiser poll, indicating some of the most popular specific reform measures, including:
Tax credits to small businesses – 73%
Health insurance exchange – 67%
Won’t change most people’s existing arrangements – 66 %
Guaranteed issue – 63%
Medicaid expansion – 62%
Extend dependent coverage through age 25 – 60%
Help close the Medicare doughnut hole – 60%
Public option – 53%
Bergthold credits the President with listening to “more than the “top lines” and having considered “what those responses really mean in terms of specifics.” Bergthold concludes:
If you believed that Americans had really done their homework, studied the bills in detail and come to the conclusion that they opposed the whole package, then there would be reason to listen to doom and gloom predictions. But so few members of the public have done that homework on their own, as evidenced by the Kaiser poll, that the results of the polls seem misleading if not completely wrong.
Although some believe the President back-burnered health reform by not getting into it until a half hour into his speech, he did put the challenge clearly: “Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”
President Obama is well-aware, however, that the Republican policy on health reform is “No.,” and his real challenge is unifying the Democratic Party and winning support from swing voters. But he offered no clues as to whether he thought the bill should be repackaged, or if part of it should be passed through budget reconciliation.
The President is the pitchman-in-chief when it comes to passing needed social reforms. He has admitted his failure to fully execute that responsibility and affirmed his commitment to do better. Although his comments about health reform were generally low-key in comparison to other issues, he was right in saying that congress also has to meet the challenge. In addition, somehow, progressive Democrats need to find a way of better educating swing voters about provisions of the health care package.