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Democratic Voters Want To Hear Candidates’ Views On Health, But Priorities Vary

With the first Democratic debates a week away, health care is the top issue the party’s voters say they want candidates to address, according to a poll released Tuesday.

But what they mean by that varies widely.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said it is very important for candidates to discuss health issues. But 28% said they want candidates to focus on “lowering the amount people pay for health care,” and about 18% said Democrats should talk about “increasing access to health care,” the Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

That divide extends to specific health care proposals, mirroring the split on the issue among Democratic politicians. About 16% of the voters leaning Democratic said the party should discuss “protecting the [Affordable Care Act] and protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” while about 15% said they want candidates to talk about “implementing a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system.”

That figure reflected an increase in the number of Americans who name “Medicare for All” as a priority, noted Ashley Kirzinger, a KFF polling expert. Six months before the 2018 midterm elections, only 4% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said they wanted candidates to talk about single-payer.

“We’re expecting to hear candidates talk about it because individuals are talking about it,” she said.

The poll also revealed that voters are unclear how extensively Medicare for All would revamp the American health care system.

For instance, while most voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents — said they figured a tax increase would be needed to finance Medicare for All, more than 50% of all respondents said people who get private health insurance through work could keep it, that people who buy their own coverage would retain it, and that both individuals and employers would keep paying health insurance premiums. There were sharp differences in these categories, with Republicans much more likely to expect major changes in the health system under a Medicare for All system.

The flagship single-payer legislation — spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — would eliminate insurance premiums, as well as most employer-sponsored or privately purchased health plans. (It’s unclear how much Medicare for All would cost, though the Congressional Budget Office has noted that “government spending on health care would increase substantially.”)

The disconnect may be the result of voters not understanding or knowing the details of the health care proposals being put forth, Kirzinger said. But it also could be that voters are skeptical of how much lawmakers would actually change the American system.

“It’s telling that a majority think large portions of the current system would stay,” she said.

The poll was conducted May 30-June 4 among about 1,200 people, of whom about 1,000 are registered voters, and 524 are either Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points for issues pertinent to every respondent, and of +/-4 percentage points for those regarding only registered voters. For Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents only, the margin of error is +/-5 percentage points.