Two new polls released yesterday show plurality support for the public option in both Nebraska and North Carolina. A Research 2000 poll found that 46% of Nebraskans favor the creation of a new public health insurance option, while 44% oppose. The findings are important because Nebraska is one of the most conservative states in the country and is represented by the most conservative Democratic senator, Ben Nelson. Nelson does not support the public option, and has repeatedly expressed concerns about it. Ideally, this new polling data will make Nelson more comfortable about letting a health care reform bill with a public option get an up-or-down vote, even if in the end he votes against the bill.
On the other hand, the public option has significantly more support in North Carolina. A new Elon University poll found that 54% of North Carolinians support creating a public option, while only 38% of the state opposes it. Sen. Kay Hagan has previously voted for the public option in the HELP committee, and this poll should reassure her that she made the right decision in supporting the public plan.
The other very interesting finding from the poll is that 41.3% of North Carolinians said they would use the public option if it became available. That is dramatically higher than the CBO's assumption that only 20% of exchange eligible individuals would select the public option. That assumption by the CBO is responsible for possibly seriously underestimating the eventual size of the public option's costumer base.
Remember, the poll asked all North Carolinians, while it is only the uninsured, the self-employed, and small businesses who will permitted to use the new exchange at first. Only exchange-eligible individuals will be able to sign up for the public option. That is a group that tends to be least happy with their private health insurance, and private health insurance companies, in general. I suspect if the poll was limited to only exchange eligible individuals, the desire to sign up for the public option would be noticeably above poll's finding of 41.3%. It is a number that should give the health insurance companies in North Carolina pause.