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Likely Missouri voters this November oppose federal health-care reform

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 18, 2010 - Some candidates may be distancing themselves from the new health reform law because they're reflecting the views of many, perhaps most, Missouri voters.

The Missouri Foundation for Health released a poll this month showing that Missourians who are likely to vote Nov. 2 are concerned about rising health-care costs, and they have misgivings about making too many changes in the existing system.

The main concerns that cause voters to be leery of reforms, the poll showed, include criticism, valid or not, that Medicare would be cut, causing seniors to suffer. A second concern, the poll showed, is that the nation would be unable to sustain the new spending and the costs growing out of mandates in the law.

Despite these misgivings, voters favor many components of the new law, the poll says. Provisions that are embraced include coverage for pre-existing conditions, especially for children; tax credits to make insurance more affordable for small businesses; and the provision allowing people to keep their current insurance. Voters also favor easing disparities in the costs of health insurance for women.

The affordability of insurance continues to top voter concerns regarding the current system. The poll says nearly six in 10 voters have a lot of concern about health-care costs, up from about 50 percent in 2008.

"Public anxiety over affordability traverse partisan divides, with majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans expressing concerns," the foundation reported.

Even so, similar worries about changing the system too much have risen in two years, from 43 percent in 2008 to 48 percent this year. The poll said independents were more worried about changes than they are about the current health-care system.

While 31 percent of women are worried about keeping things as they are, 46 percent are more worried about too much change in the current system, the poll found. It also found that while 32 percent of seniors worry about not changing the system, 51 percent are more fearful of making too many changes.

Supporters of health-care reform have argued that that voters would warm to the reform law once they understood its benefits. But the foundation's poll found that while Missouri voters liked many elements in the law, they still disliked the entire package of reforms even after hearing arguments from both sides.

"The most powerful reasons to support the measure focus on making the system more fair, especially for woman and children," the poll said. "All of the opposition arguments raise doubts, especially the supposed cuts to Medicare benefits."

Among its other findings, the poll found that:

  • The top arguments for the reform law overall and among persuadable voters revolve around covering pre-existing conditions and reducing cost disparities.
  • Women are more likely to be persuadable than are men.
  • Voters respond more strongly to the improvements in primary care and prevention than they do to other arguments.
  • Attacks on insurance companies are less effective than they were before passage of the reform law.

The Foundation's survey, done by Lake Research Partners, involved 800 likely General Election voters in Missouri. The survey was conducted from Aug. 24 through Aug. 29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
 Funding for health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization whose vision is to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.