Americans’ Opinions Of Health Law Shifts – Just A Little

Nine months after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Americans remain just as divided over the federal health care overhaul as they were in the weeks immediately following its passage, a tracking poll released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests.

The poll, conducted between Dec. 1 and Dec. 6, shows that roughly 42 percent of Americans say they are at least somewhat favorable to the new health care law, while 41 percent say the opposite. Those numbers haven’t changed much since April, when 46 percent of Americans described themselves as “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” toward the law and 40 percent said they felt somewhat or very unfavorably.

Within that division, however, are subtle demographic shifts in partisanship. While seniors continue to be more averse to the new health law than younger Americans, the December poll shows the percentage of people 65 and older who harbor a “generally unfavorable” opinion of the health law is lower than at any point since the law’s passage, at 40 percent.

According to Mollyann Brodie, who led the polling effort, the 16 point drop in the percentage of unfavorable seniors since April is notable, but it’s unclear why they’ve softened their opposition in recent months.

She speculated that the interest in other news events may play a role. “Now we’re hearing about deficit reductions and [other] impacts on Medicare. … It’s just a change in the agenda of what people are discussing these days,” Brodie said.

“I think it’s important to know you’re not talking about a monolithic group-seniors who identify as Democrats tend to like the law, and those who identify as Republicans tend not to like it.”

Confusion about the law persists, according to the survey. While 66 percent of Americans report they understand how the Affordable Care Act will affect their family, 41 percent of those who stand to benefit the most from the law – uninsured Americans under age 65 – say they don’t understand how the law might affect them, compared with 26 percent of the insured. Members of households making less than $40,000 per year were also twice as likely as those from wealthier households to report that they didn’t understand the impact of the law on themselves.

Americans most frequently cite newspapers, radio, online news, and cable news as their primary source of information on the Affordable Care Act, but the foundation’s latest survey suggests that trend may change, with health insurers and employers playing a larger role in informing the public.

Kaiser’s poll shows that one in four Americans want to repeal parts of the law, while another one in four favors repealing the law in its entirety. But the survey’s authors noted that in previous months even those in favor of complete repeal have shown favor for some of the law’s more popular provisions, such as the requirement that insurers sell policies to individuals with preexisting health conditions.

The poll also found that one in five respondents want to leave the law as it is and the same number want to expand it.

The Kaiser poll of 1,207 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (KHN is a project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

Meanwhile, another poll by ABC News and The Washington Post paints a slightly different picture, suggesting that 52 percent of Americans oppose the health care law. It found that of those seeking repeal, 30 percent favor partial repeal, and 29 percent favor a complete repeal.

That poll also revealed that trends in for or against the law fell sharply along ideological lines-with 86 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of independents, and 27 percent of Democrats reporting opposition to the law. The Post-ABC News poll of 1,001 adults has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The release of the two polls coincide with a court ruling today by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson of Richmond, Virginia, against the constitutionality of one of the law’s key provisions; the mandate that almost every American purchase insurance. Pitted against conflicting rulings from two other judges, the decision paves the way for what is likely to culminate in a final ruling by the Supreme Court.

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