What people really think about Obamacare may surprise you


By Patricia Salber

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) just released the results of its November Health Tracking Poll and the results may surprise you.  If you have been following the Republican presidential campaign, you probably think that the whole country hates the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka “Obamacare,” and can’t wait for a Republican to win the presidency so that he (no realistic chance for the she in the race) can repeal the whole stinking piece of legislation on Day One in office.

The KFF poll asked respondents how they feel about the ACA legislation overall.  44% have an unfavorable view compared to 37% who view the bill favorably.  When you break it down by Party affiliation, you find that 78% of Republicans view the law unfavorably as do 47% of Independents.  62% of Democrats and 34% of Independents view the law favorably.  Ok, no surprises here.

But what happens when folks are asked about the individual elements of the law?  It turns out they like many of them….a lot.  Take a look:

  • 84% of respondents view as favorable or very favorable the requirement that health plans provide easy-to-understand benefit summaries (It is pretty amazing that you should have to require health plans to explain things in a way their customers can understand, no?)
  • 80% also viewed as favorable or very favorable the provision that would award tax credits for small businesses and 75% view subsidies to help some people buy coverage as favorable or very favorable
  • Closing the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole is also popular (74% favorable/very favorable) as is prohibition of pre-existing condition denials (67% favorable including 47% very favorable)

When the response to individual elements is broken down by party affiliation, it is surprising to find that there are provisions popular with Dems, Republicans, and Indies alike.  For example, 88% of Dems, 87% of Independents and 76% of Republicans view the easy-to-understand benefit summaries as favorable (excuse me, does that mean that 24% of Republicans want to read the legalistic mumbo-jumbo or are they just opposed to requiring the industry to do something that is beneficial to their beneficiaries?).

The most unpopular element of the law is the individual mandate, the requirement to buy insurance or pay a fine.  63% view this provision unfavorably and 43% have a very unfavorable view.  Again, when broken down by party affiliation, Republicans and Independents are more opposed to being told they have to buy insurance than Democrats (this provision is viewed favorably by 53% of Dems, but only 29% of independents, and 17% of Republicans).  It seems we just don’t like being told we have to do something – even if it is for our own good (yes, dear readers, I do think that having to have health insurance is a good thing).

Now, it seems there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about Obamacare (I use the term as a compliment to the President).  42% of respondents did not know that the law required simplified benefit explanations and fewer than 40% knew that the law eliminates preventive services cost-sharing.  Even more amazing to me, a year and a half after health reform was enacted is that more than half incorrectly believe that the law includes a government-run insurance plan and a third think the law allows a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care (the so-called “death panels.”

What I love about this poll is that it points out that many of the provisions in the law are actually quite popular and yet the rhetoric, even from some folks on the left, is quite negative.   If a Republican candidate successfully wins the 2012 election and follows through on the pledge to throw out Obamacare as fast as possible, we may be in the unfortunate position of having our Leader throw the baby out with the bath water.

Having lived through many failed attempts to reform what almost everyone agrees is a broken health care non-system, I think a far better approach is to keep Reform as the law of the land, but use the legislative process to tweak, modify, improve, the individual elements as needed.  Seems like some people agree with me on that (see slide 5 in the KFF Chart deck).

If you would like to see the Poll questions, the complete findings of the poll and read about the methodology, you can find the information on the KFF website.



  1. “ObamaCare” contains a lot large “negatives” than the few “positive” aspects you note.

    For the sake of argument, I’ll ignore your position than “many of the provisions are quite popular” and put aside the funny math where the poll percentages you reference add up to more than 100%. Nonetheless, you’ve outlined more than 3 important topics in your 3 bullet points:

    1. Simplified Plan Summaries & EOB’s –> (Who wouldn’t want them? – Low cost and reasonable)
    2. Tax Credits for Small Business -> (Aren’t tax credits and tax cuts anathema to Democrats?)
    3. Subsidies to help people buy coverage -> (These subsidies are very undefined and, IMO, really subject to abuse and interpretation; and will likely drive sponsors to quit covering their groups.)
    4. Of course closing the doughnut hole is popular. (I just wonder how many of the 74% you note whoo support this provision actually understand what this means, whether it will even impact them in the next 10-20-30 years and whether they understand that closing this hole will likely benefit “Big Pharma?”)
    5. Surely not allowing pre-existing condition denials rings true to many who ‘voted for it?’ (And if the individual mandate is struck down, everyone will get ‘all of nothing’ rather ‘than some of something.’)

    What I love about this poll is how you managed to interpret its results according to your experiences “living through many failed attempts to reform” healthcare. I do not agree that a “far better approach is to keep Reform as the law of the land” – but I do agree that the legislative process needs to significantly modify and improve a few elements of the plan. And I do agree that it points out that SOME of the provisions in the law are actually quite popular. After all, we humans all like to pick and choose our dislikes and likes – just not have Big Government force what they think is best on ALL of us.