Long Islanders want health care fixed, but they don't trust the government to get it right.
A divided electorate is leaning slightly in favor of President Barack Obama's reform plan, but rejects many parts of it, and is gloomy about its impact on their wallets, according to a new Newsday/News 12/Siena Research Institute poll.
Though the overwhelming majority of those surveyed agree that health-care costs and the uninsured are serious problems, just 47 percent favor Obama's proposals to solve them. That leaves Long Islanders' support for his efforts barely outside the survey's 3-point margin of error.
"Staggering numbers agree on the seriousness of all these various problems," said Donald Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, which conducted the poll of 1,037 voters between Sept. 29 and Oct. 7. "They clearly are seeking solutions. But from Long Island voters' perspective, the folks in D.C. have not found them."
Long Islanders are sharply divided when asked how they feel about Obama's plan: Democrats support it, while Republicans are opposed. Voters under 35 strongly favor it, while those over 55 lean slightly against it. Women favor it, while men say no. Race and religion also divide voters on the plan: 79 percent of blacks and 63 percent of Jewish voters support Obama's proposals, while only 41 percent of whites and 39 percent of Catholics do.
But when asked about individual components of a reform plan, Long Islanders are more broadly agreed, differing only in the intensity of their views:
PUBLIC OPTION: Almost three quarters, or 74 percent, favor a public option for those people who cannot afford health insurance through any other source.
EXPANDING MEDICAID: A less enthusiastic 62 percent favor extending Medicaid to provide insurance to those making less than three times the federal poverty level.
PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: More than three quarters agree - 64 percent of them "completely" - that it should be illegal for health insurance providers to deny coverage to anyone based upon a pre-existing condition.
MALPRACTICE: Similarly, 75 percent are completely or somewhat in favor of limits to malpractice lawsuits.
MANDATE: On the other hand, 69 percent are somewhat or completely opposed to requiring all Americans to show proof of health insurance or face a financial penalty.
TAXING "CADILLAC" INSURANCE: And 72 percent oppose the idea that Americans with health insurance valued at twice the national average should pay a tax of 35 percent on that policy.
"Voters tell elected officials things that don't necessarily make sense," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg. "If elected officials did everything that the voters suggest in this survey . . . I'm not sure the voters would agree that the final package is in fact health care reform."
In his address to Congress Sept. 9, the president vowed, "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits - either now or in the future." But 51 percent of Long Island voters are skeptical, while only 19 percent agree that his plan can be achieved without increasing the national debt. Even among those who support the plan, 35 percent expect it to add to the debt.
And though Obama promised, "The middle class will realize greater security, not higher taxes" under his plan, 64 percent of Long Islanders polled said they believe extending health care coverage to all Americans will result in higher taxes for most Americans. Even among the plan's supporters, 48 percent expect taxes to go up, while only 24 percent don't.
Long Island voters are divided on the implications of the president's plan, with 45 percent believing that it would lead away from democracy and toward socialism, while 42 percent disagree. And they are cynical about the debate in Washington. Only one-third agreed that the vast majority of the elected officials "care deeply about the welfare of Americans" and are not just playing politics.
Some of the strongest reaction came when voters were asked whether opposition to the plan is in reality an expression of racism directed at Obama. Only 23 percent of respondents believe so - but 55 percent of black or Asian-Americans do. Of those who opposed the plan, 85 percent "strongly" disagree.
Siena also found just how important Barack Obama's own electoral mandate is in the complex politics of this issue: Though just 47 percent of voters overall support Obama's reforms, 76 percent of Obama's supporters back his plan, while 86 percent of those who gave him unfavorable ratings also gave a thumbs-down to his plan.
"If you like the president, you are overwhelmingly likely to like his plan," said Greenberg. "The logical conclusion is that Obama is a good salesman for health care reform - as long as he is popular."