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Opposition to Cutting Medicare Benefits, Premium Support Cuts Across Party Lines

By Dena Bunis, CQ HealthBeat Managing Editor

August 16, 2012 -- In a rare moment of near-agreement on health care policy this election season, a majority of Republicans and Democrats oppose cutting Medicare benefits or transforming the program into a defined-contribution model, according to one of two polls recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to a joint Washington Post/Kaiser survey, which was conducted mostly before presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., as his vice presidential pick, found that 55 percent of Republicans want to maintain Medicare as it is currently structured and not change it to a system under which seniors get a fixed amount of money with which to buy health insurance. That sentiment was expressed by 68 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents. Restructuring Medicare into a premium support program was the centerpiece of Ryan's plan for the health program for seniors and the disabled. Romney has embraced Ryan's plan, although he differs with the House Budget chairman when it comes to what would happen to the $716 billion that the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) would cut from Medicare.

And when it comes to which health concerns matter most to voters, the health care law's dominance is fading, compared to the public's worries about Medicare and the costs of health care and insurance. According to Kaiser's monthly tracking poll, 73 percent of respondents said that Medicare will be either extremely or very important as they consider who to vote for president. The same percentage said the cost of medical care and insurance will be extremely or very important to their presidential selection. The health care law ranked lower—although still important—on the list of health concerns, with 59 percent rating it as very or extremely important.

When it comes to the party breakdown of health issue importance, among Republicans the cost of health care and insurance and Medicare were tied at 73 percent as being very or extremely important. Among Democrats, 80 percent put Medicare at the top of the list, with health costs/insurance coming in second at 78 percent. Among independents, 74 percent put Medicare as most important, with 73 percent selecting health costs/insurance.

The tracking poll also shows that the Romney ticket has some work to do to educate the electorate about the GOP plans for health care. While 72 percent said they have a basic understanding of the direction of President Obama's health care policy, 45 percent said they have a basic idea of what Romney would do on health care, while 51 percent said they do not.

Kaiser officials point out that while the state of the economy remains the top priority for American voters, health care may figure as a more important issue than the numbers suggest. "That's because the cost of health care shows up high on the list of national economic issues worrying the public, second only to the job situation: 44 percent name the cost of care as one of their top two economic concerns, compared to 59 percent that talk about jobs, and 37 percent that mention the budget deficit," Kaiser says in its statement of findings, referring to its joint survey with The Washington Post.

For the monthly tracking poll, 1208 adults were surveyed during Aug. 7-12, 2012. The margin of error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll was conducted July 25-Aug. 5, 2012, among 3,130 adults, The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points; error margins are 3.5 points for the samples of 1,027 Democrats and 1,054 independents and 4 points for the sample of 846 Republicans.

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