Americans Still Confused, Divided About Health Law

As the midterm election rhetoric intensifies, so does voter confusion about the landmark health law passed in March, according to the September tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The poll, released today, finds that 53 percent of Americans say they are confused about the overhaul. That is up 8 percent points from August. (KHN is a program of the foundation.)

In addition, the tracking poll finds that the country is still deeply divided over the law. Support for the law rose to 49 percent of Americans in September, a climb of 6 points, while opposition fell from 45 percent to 40 percent. But the foundation notes that those results have stayed “in the same relatively narrow band each has occupied since passage.” Among likely voters, 46 percent say they favor the bill while 45 percent do not.

Just over a quarter of Americans believe the law should be repealed, which congressional Republicans are pledging to do if they win in the midterm elections. 

Over the weekend, The Associated Press released a poll that also found the public divided about the new law. But the AP survey noted that “Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1.” That poll was conducted by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Kaiser poll found that the health law appears to be having modest impact on voters’ views heading into the elections. Thirty percent of registered voters said they are more likely to vote in November because of the passage of the law, while 60 percent said it does not affect their decision on whether to vote. The poll found that more than a third of Americans identified themselves as independent voters or weren’t sure which party they were affiliated with, yet they are split fairly evenly among those leaning toward the Democrats, those leaning toward Republicans and those without partisan leanings. Among the independent voters who don’t lean toward either party, 52 percent said the law “wouldn’t make much difference” in their choice in November. 

Kaiser also surveyed registered voters about which issues were “most important” in their decisions in the congressional elections. Topping the results was the economy and jobs, at 37 percent. Health care tied for second – with dissatisfaction with government – at 10 percent.

The poll again found that seniors “continue to be more pessimistic about the law” than younger Americans. Half of those over the age of 65 are opposed to the law, a result similar to opinions when the law was enacted. While about 20 percent of seniors believe they will see a benefit from the law or that Medicare will be improved by it, nearly half of them think it will complicate their efforts to get care. The poll also found that large numbers of seniors continue to believe misperceptions about the law.

The poll was done with telephone interviews of 1,200 adults from Sept. 14 through 19, before Sept. 23, when a number of provisions took effect. It has a margin of sampling error of +/-3 percentage points.