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As Health Debate Heats Up, Public Opinion Appears To Cool

New polls this week are consistently finding that although many Americans still support efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system, a growing number are less likely to see those reforms benefitting themselves or the country.

A tracking poll released today found that a majority — 54 percent — say it is now more important than ever to pursue health reform. Forty-one percent said the country couldn’t afford it.

According to the poll, which was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of Americans who say they will be better off if a sweeping health overhaul passes dipped to 35 percent in December, down from 42 percent last month. In addition, 27 percent say they will be worse off if the reforms are enacted. Thirty-two percent don’t expect to see much of a difference. (KHN is a program of the foundation).

In a similar breakdown, 45 percent expect the country to be better off if health care reform passes, down from 54 percent in November. Thirty-one percent say the country will be worse off and 17 percent do not expect to see an impact. “Our poll shows that a majority of the public still supports action on health reform, but the more contentious and lengthy the debate, the more the public will get anxious about change,” Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement. 

Nonetheless, 59 percent describe their feelings about the pending overhaul plans as “hopeful.” Fifty-seven percent report feeling frustrated.

The telephone survey was conducted Dec. 7 -13 and has a margin of error +/- 3 percentage points.

Earlier this week, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found the percentage of people who believe the president’s health care plan is a good idea dropped to its lowest level – 32 percent. Another 47 percent say it is a bad idea. And, NBC reported that, for the first time in the survey, a plurality — 44 percent to 41 percent — preferred maintaining the status quo to reform. And overall, the challenges associated with the health bill are being linked to Democratic problems. “For Democrats, the red flags are flying at full mast,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who helped conduct the survey, told the Journal.

And a Washington Post-ABC News poll’s findings underscore the political risks faced by President Obama and the Democrats. Less than half — 37 percent — believe the quality of care would be better under an overhauled system, compared to 50 percent who view it as better under the current system. And in this month’s poll, 51 percent said they were opposed to proposed changes, while 44 percent approved of them.

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