Perceptions of Health Care Reform Might Weigh Heavily on Dems in November

Looking at a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, one set of numbers on health care really stuck out to me. It was the questions about what people think health care reform will do to them personally, and what they think it will do to the system as a whole. And, overall, the numbers look very bad for Democrats:

12. In the long run, do you think [ITEM] will get (better) as a result of these changes to the health care system, get (worse), or remain about the same?
          3/26/10 - Summary Table*

Better Worse Same No opinion
a. the overall health care system
in this country 37 44 15 3
b. the quality of the health care you
receive 18 44 35 3
c. your health insurance coverage 17 42 38 3
d. your ability to get health insurance 48 25 25 2
*item c asked if insured; item d asked if not insured (N=94)

13. In the long run, do you think [ITEM] will (increase) as a result of these changes to the health care system, (decrease), or remain about the same?
          3/26/09 - Summary Table

Increase Decrease Same No opinion
a. Your health care costs 55 11 30 4
b. The overall costs of health
care in this country 60 16 21 3

A lot more people think their personal health care will get worse as a result of reform than believe it will get better. You also have a strong majority thinking the bill will make both their health care cost more, and increase the overall cost of health care in this country.

These are not good numbers for Democrats. It is tough to think constituents would be very happy that their member of Congress voted for a bill that they believe will personally make them worse off, even if they actually thought it would make the whole system better for most. In that circumstance, I can see people thinking that maybe it was right vote, but that doesn't mean they are enthusiastic about that vote.

Of course, the problem is that people don't even think that they are going to be worse off to make the system as a whole much better. They seem to think the bill, for the most part, will make many parts of our health care system worse and/or more costly.

How this plays out in November is hard to guess. The health care bill does almost nothing, good or bad, until 2014. In the short term, no one's insurance is likely to get worse or more costly as a direct result of the new law. So, it is possible people might see that the bill is very modest, incremental, and doesn't really affect them. This could cause the dissipation of the current anger and heated opposition to the law.

But (and that is a huge “but”) our system is slowly collapsing, and costs are increasing at out of control rates. Millions of people's health care coverage is likely to be more expensive, and their coverage worse, in a year--regardless of whether the bill had passed or not. It is very possible that people will incorrectly blame this continued deterioration of health care on the new law, or blame Democrats for passing a big health care reform law without dealing with any of the problems.

I suspect what most people think has happened or hasn't happened as a result of the new law will play a huge role in November. If people realize it has done almost nothing, they might make the election about more recent and more pressing issues. If, on the other hand, Democrats end up owning all the terrible problems with our broken health care system--where people incorrectly blame the new law for their current problems, and people express their anger at the Democrats who failed to the deliver on their big promises (which, for the most part, don't really start until 2014)--the midterms might not be pretty.

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