Field Poll Reflects Non-Stop Industry Drubbing

On Wednesday, the venerable Field Poll released its latest survey on California voters’ attitudes towards health care reform. It shows a remarkable shift in public opinion since Field’s previous survey, conducted in December 2006 and released in January 2007.

By remarkable, I mean earthshaking. Consider the percentage of respondents preferring to make change within the current system versus those willing to chuck the whole thing and start over with a new, government-based system:

  • In December, 55 percent supported changes within the system; now just 33 percent do
  • In December 24, percent supported a governorment-run single payer system; now 36 percent do.

This kind of shift ranks pretty high on the political Richter scale. It’s not the Big One, but it is a big one, rattling the nerves of every politician within its reach — meaning every officeholder in the State Capitol. And it’s enough to have them worried about the after shocks.

This shift, however, shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, the surprise would have come if the public’s attitude toward the health care system had not changed since December. Since then we’ve had:

  • Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger introduce comprehensive reforms to fix a system he describes — at least weekly — as broken.
  • Legislators from both parties and both houses introducing their own reform packages to change a system in need of tweaking (the Republican characterization) or to fix a system that is severely broken (the Democratic presentation) — but in any case, both are proclaiming a need for change.
  • A tremendous publicity campaign behind Michael Moore’s film, Sicko, in which he uses his considerable skill and talent to demonstrate that the system is severely broken and we’d all be better off French.
  • Senator Sheila Keuhl and her allies bringing thousands to the State Capital in support of her single payer bill, SB 840, not once but several times to proclaim the current system is broken beyond repair.
  • Democratic Presidential candidates holding more debates than anyone should have to endure, and each proclaiming at each event that they have the solution for America’s broken health care system.
  • Health plans behaving badly as if to demonstrate that parts of the system are truly broken, and regulators having a grand time doing their appropriate job of pointing this out.

And the list could be expanded easily expanded, but you get the point. If someone tells you something is broken often enough you’re going to believe that something is broken. And in this case, there are problems which need addressing, so the drumbeat of criticism has significant credibility.

No industry or person can withstand this kind of consistently repeated negative news — just ask John Kerry, a war hero until he was Swiftboated in the 2004 campaign. Well, now the insurance industry is being Swifboated. As noted, some of it is deserved, some of it is self-inflicted, and some of it is just politics. Even an industry with a large resevoir of public goodwill would be damanged, and the health insurance industry seems genetically incapable of generating much goodwill.

So it is no surprise the Field Poll shows an tremendous swing in the public’s attitude towards the health care industry:

  • In December, 51 percent said they were satisfied with the health care system; now just 28 percent are.
  • In December, 44 percent said they were dissatisfied with the health care system; now 69 percent are.

So the health care system as we know it is doomed, right? We’ll be mimicking the Canadians by January, is that it?

Well, maybe not. There will be changes, sooner than later. But then, some change is needed. Virtually everyone agrees on that. The real question then is, what kind of change? I don’t think it will be a single-payer system. The Governor won’t do a 180-degree flip on that one just because of a poll. My biggest concern is that in their haste to respond to the need for health care reform, the Legislature and the Governor will pass unartful reform, overflowing with unintended and dire consequences.

What the poll will impact is the enthusiasm with which certain groups pursue initiatives for next year’s ballot. If you’re looking for a vote of the people to enact substantial change, the August Field poll is a strong wind in your sails. Getting the signatures should be, to maul the metaphor, a breeze.

But advocates of government-monopoly health care shouldn’t get too excited about the poll. The industry has taken a huge number of hits. So much so, it can’t fall much lower. So this is as good as it gets for single payer backers. By next February or November or whenever an initiative is voted upon, the numbers will have changed — they always do.

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