Field Poll Shows Voters Like the Upside of Health Care Reform

California voters like the core benefits of the health care reform compromise pulled together by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. According to a California Field Poll released December 21st, voters favor the package by nearly a two-to-one margin. What’s impressive is the breadth of the support. The reform package is supported regardless of political party, age, gender, ethnicity, income or  geography, albeit by varying majorities.

This demonstrates the importance of health care coverage to Californians, the real problems that exist in the current system, and the impact of nearly a year debating health care reform in which the most frequently used phrase is “the current system is broken.” In fact, of voters who say they are inclined to favor the proposal, the second most frequently cited reason (at 19 percent) is that the system is broken, or words to that effect. The most common response falls into the category the Field Poll describes as “Everyone needs insurance/you could get wiped out without insurance” with 38 percent.  In a time of substantial economic uncertainty, this result is not surprising.

Whether voters get to actually cast ballots on the reform package will depend on what happens in the State Senate. The Assembly on December 17th passed ABX1-1, also known as the Health Care Security and Cost Reduction Act. Senate President Pro Tem is holding off deliberation and a vote on the bill until the Legislative Analyst’s office has a chance to determine the impact ABX1-1 will have on the state’s finances.

What’s significant is that while ABX1-1 creates a “framework” for health care reform, none of it takes effect unless voters approve a ballot measure to finance that framework. Supporters hope to qualify that initiative for the November 2008 ballot.

The Field Poll is good news for backers of the Health Care Security and Cost Reduction Act. Starting off with 30 percent of voters saying they strongly favor the package and another 34 percent indicating they somewhat favor the plan is a great starting point for any campaign on any topic.

But that doesn’t mean the campaign is in the bag. The survey, it seems, failed to probe for the impact of arguments detractors are likely to make. Here’s the question that was asked:

“The broad outlines of the reforms being proposed call for making changes within the framework of the current health insurance system. Those who currently have insurance could retain their same coverage. Those who do not have insurance would be required to obtain a minimum level of coverage from either an employer, government agency, or by paying for it themselves. The state would subsidize the costs of insurance for low income people. Middle income families would receive tax credits if they need to buy their insurance in the open market. Insurance companies would be required to offer coverage to anyone without regard to health condition. most employers would be required to offer health insurance to their employees or pay into a state fund.”

Sounds good. Since most Americans, even rich ones, consider themselves “middle class,” those tax credits sound especially good.

But opponents of the bill are going to hammer away at the size of the taxes, the amount of government involvement and control over the health care system, the risk of health insurance premiums skyrocketing, the impact on the state’s already shaky budget, etc. There are a lot of voter hot buttons and opponents will press them all to try to defeat the initiative.

Does the fact that opponents will have ammunition doom the initiative? No. But then, this poll doesn’t mean it’s sure to pass either. Think of this Field Poll as a good benchmark. If the Senate passes ABX1-1, this poll will be a valuable tool for measuring the impact of the claims both sides will make during a very long campaign.