Examining Concerns About Health Care Issues In US

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Health care as an election issue "seem[s] to vacillate in importance by the day, the place and the audience" and has been somewhat "absorbed" by "broader anxiety over the economy" and "urgency of high-cost gasoline and the housing crisis," the New York Times reports. Polls show that health care has not waned in importance for voters, but rather other concerns have "blitzed passed it," according to the Times. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said, "Energy has kind of taken the wind out of -- no pun intended -- all sorts of other things," but "health care is still in the top three issues, and it is for every single demographic group."

According to the Times, without Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the presidential race, health care is receiving "somewhat less emphasis," although presidential nominees Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) each are "stoking fears about the other's proposal." Obama has said McCain's plan -- which would replace the tax exemption for employer-based insurance with tax credits of as much as $2,500 for individuals or $5,000 for families buying insurance on the private market -- would increase costs for many people and leave others underinsured. McCain has said Obama's proposal, which would provide new government-subsidized policies for the uninsured, would "force families into a government-run health care system." The Times cites a Kaiser Family Foundation poll finding that 58% of voters say Obama would be more likely to make health care a priority, compared to 20% for McCain.

Health care advocacy groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to "keep the issue at the forefront of the 2009 congressional agenda," the Times reports. In addition, working groups, both inside and outside of Congress are trying to find points of bipartisan agreement that could "produce at least incremental change," according to the Times. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D- Md.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democratic candidates will attempt to stimulate the debate over health care reform by linking it to the U.S.'s recent economic downturn. "While there continues to be a moral issue of ensuring that our people have access to basic health care, it's also a family budget issue and an economic issue in an era of global competition," he said.

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According to the Times, Democrats in some congressional elections have "attacked" Republican opponents on the issue of health coverage, which they "see as a ... Republican soft spot." Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said health care is "generally more helpful to Democrats than to Republicans so when health care is subsumed into the economy it may not have as much of an edge." However, Price said, "I think ... it is a Republican issue, because the solution embraces our conservative principles, the imperative of individuals and their families being able to make decisions. Nobody truly believes the government can solve this, save Democrat politicians" (Sack, New York Times, 9/12).

Opinion Piece

Although "health care still ranks among voters' top concerns as the November election approaches," a recent poll shows that "confusion exists about its details and where the two presidential candidates stand on the topic," Washington Times columnist Gary Andres writes. The poll shows that while "voters clearly prefer a focus on containing health care costs compared to covering more of the uninsured," they also "display confusion when it comes to details and implications of health care reform policies" and the proposals of each presidential nominee, Andres writes.

Andres notes that when asked which of the major presidential candidates' health care plans features direct refundable tax credits of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families to offset the cost of health insurance, 27% of respondents said McCain, 33% said Obama and 33% said they did not know. He continues, "Despite voters registering serious concern about an issue, they often don't know a lot about the specifics, creating a fertile environment to shape the debate through aggressive messaging," concluding, "When it comes to health care, it seems both sides have some opportunities, but also some work to do" (Andres, Washington Times, 9/12).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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