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Poll: Health overhaul losing favor in Utah

Published May 6, 2010 8:25 pm

Reform » Nearly 70% of registered voters polled oppose health reform, up from 57% in November.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utahns have felt little to no impact yet from the newly passed federal health care overhaul. But they have grown even more opposed to it, according to a poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune .

Sixty-nine percent of registered and active Utah voters oppose the law, compared with 57 percent in November when Congress was still debating competing versions of President Barack Obama's health care fix.

A slim majority would support Utah opting out of the new federal system, even if it greatly cost the state. And 64 percent favor Utah's move to challenge parts of the law as unconstitutional, according to a poll conducted last week by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., of Washington, D.C.

It's a finding that runs counter to recent national polls showing slightly more Americans favoring than opposing reform, and slight increases in approval ratings for Obama and the nation's health care system.

"It's a bit of a surprise," said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank of Utahns' growing disapproval. "I would have expected stronger support."

The results come even as the Obama administration works to make consumers aware of wide-ranging benefits under the Affordable Health Care Act. Democrats hope as partisan rhetoric gives way to results, the public will warm to reform.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are hoping consumer dissatisfaction will carry them through the 2010 election and beyond.

To be sure, the nation remains divided about the massive legislation that narrowly passed the House just two months ago. Minutes after it was signed by Obama, attorneys general from more than a dozen states, including Utah, sued to block parts of the law as unconstitutional.

The Tribune poll reflects partisan differences.

A majority of Utah Republicans and independents oppose reform, while Democrats overwhelmingly favor it, according to the telephone survey of 400 people, with a 5 percent margin of error.

But there is growing disapproval among all groups, even those assumed to be supportive.

The new Tribune survey and a previous Tribune poll done in November show weakening support among Democrats and Republicans, men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

How health reform will eventually rank among other major policy shifts, such as the creation of Social Security and Medicare, is hard to say since, "there was no good polling data back then," said Burbank.

But Burbank said it's possible health reform will follow the same trajectory as the more recent Medicare prescription drug plans.

"There were constituencies who wanted it, but it wasn't popular when it passed. It was complicated and there was huge dissatisfaction with its implementation," he said. "But it has become a plan that lots of people count on, and talking about getting rid of it now makes people very unhappy."

Regardless, he said, Utah's numbers are "potentially very problematic for Democrats going into mid-term elections."

Rob Ence, executive director of AARP Utah, blames lingering confusion over key provisions of the law that don't take effect until 2014.

Insurance marketplaces, where people can comparison shop for coverage, won't be operable for three years. That's also when insurers must remove lifetime caps on coverage and start enrolling people with pre-existing conditions.

"It will take a while for people to feel the benefits of this. There's just a lot of unknowns, which is why people are feeling cautious about it," Ence said.

Uncertainty describes the prevailing sentiment of those polled.

"It's hard to know if it's going to help or hurt you," said 45-year-old Gilbert Papia of Price, who supports the federal makeover.

Jilane Richardson, a public school teacher in Ogden, is undecided and leery about what the law means for her family.

"I'm afraid this will cause my insurance premiums to go up," the 40-year-old said. "But since it passed and is now the law of the land, I'll wait and see how it pans out."

Matt Biesinger, of Salt Lake City, on the other hand, is opposed on principle, even though there are aspects of reform he likes.

"All Americans should be covered some way or another. It's unfair for an insurance company to make money off you when you're healthy and then turn around and limit coverage when you get sick and actually need it," said the self-employed 45-year-old. "But I don't think the ends, how they got it passed, justify the means. This is a states' rights issue."

It's on those grounds that Biesinger, like most voters, supports Utah suing to stop expansion of Medicaid and the federal mandate requiring people to purchase insurance.

But he's undecided about whether Utah should opt out of the federal system, which would essentially wipe out the state's Medicaid program, along with hundreds-of-millions in federal funding.

He's not alone; 45 percent of voters are undecided or opposed to the idea of opting out.

Ence said the law will likely be tweaked and improved, but talk of repeal has been dropped by conservatives in Congress. "In time people will come around," he predicted. "Doing nothing would have made our system unsustainable and consequences, far worse."

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