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Poll: Voters Want Quick Action on Uninsured

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

March 3, 2008 -- More than three-quarters of voters want the next president and Congress to take quick action to help the more than 47 million Americans without health care coverage get it, according to polling data released Monday.

Compiled for the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Viewpoint survey found that 83 percent of voters feel immediate action on the issue is required, with 55 percent of voters saying it was "very important" and 28 percent listing it as "somewhat important."

About a quarter of voters also said they fear not being able to pay for health care benefits (15 percent) or losing their coverage (11 percent). Other health-related concerns grabbing the electorate's attention include overhauling the current medical malpractice system, requiring Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and changes to entitlement programs.

Last year, the Federation released its own proposal to provide universal coverage within the context of the current system by expanding eligibility for Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Health Coverage Passports, or HCPs, would be issued to Americans below 400 percent of the federal poverty level who are not eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP.

All Americans would be required to have coverage, and the passports would be subsidies that pay a percentage of premiums on a sliding scale based on income. People who can obtain coverage at work but are uninsured would be required to use the subsidies to enroll in their employer's plan. Other uninsured people would use the subsidy to buy coverage in the individual market. Uninsured people who make too much money to qualify for the subsidies would have to buy their own insurance, but their premiums would be tax-deductible.

Voters' continued concern about the number of Americans without health care coverage plus estimates that the figure will increase makes the case for quick action by the next president and Congress, said the federation's president, Chip Kahn. "The longer we wait, the worse it will get," Kahn said at a news conference. The American Viewpoint poll also found that voters, no matter what their political affiliation or health care coverage status, had a favorable view of the Federation's plan to cover the uninsured.

A separate analysis released at the news conference found that the Federation's coverage proposal would cost nearly $133 billion if implemented in 2010. When the Federation unveiled its plan last year, the cost estimate was $115 billion if the proposal was implemented in 2007.

Prepared by The Lewin Group, the analysis also found that the Federation's plan would cost the federal government $131.3 billion and cost private employers $4.7 billion in 2010, while saving states nearly $18 billion and households about $35 billion.

The Federation's plan also is expected to result in an increase of individuals covered by employer-sponsored coverage, from 56 percent now to 57 percent, or about 3.5 million people, in 2010. That finding rebuts fears that if subsidies were provided for non-group coverage, fewer employers would offer coverage to their employees.

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