Thursday, July 16, 2009

Universal Healthcare in Trouble?

There’s a chance that universal healthcare might not happen soon. According to a new Rasmussen poll, 49% of Americans believe President Obama should wait until the economy improves, while 42% believe he should act now. When you dig into the numbers though, you find that Americans still find healthcare reform to be important. Seventy-eight percent of voters say that reining in health spending is important; 46%v say it’s very important.

Previous polls have shown general enthusiasm for healthcare reform, and even a public option. A New York Times poll from June 20 found that 72% of respondents wanted a public option in health insurance.

I think the campaigns against healthcare reform have taken a toll. There are ads on TV warning how middle class people will be forced onto a government plan where they’ll be standing in line waiting for government bureaucrats to decide if they get that operation or not. The middle class must be persuaded that health care reform won’t come at their expense for it to pass. As it stands, many are satisfied with their healthcare plans. A CNN poll found that 80% of Americans are satisfied with their healthcare.

Now, many of those satisfied are surely young people who don’t have major health problems—yet—and have no reason to be dissatisfied. But when middle aged people have a heart attack and need expensive bypass surgery and find their insurance companies trying to avoid paying the cost, we’ll see how happy they really are with their healthcare. But I digress.

Americans are also likely worried about debt right now. There was a large budget deficit before Obama took office, and that has only grown since the stimulus package and the other spending measures. I wouldn’t be surprised if the deficit were a substantial issue in the midterm elections next year (though the economy will trump everything). So Americans are reluctant to spend another trillion dollars now.

Polls like this could give Republicans ammunition to do more to block certain reforms. They can say they have the American people on their side. This puts the Democrats in a tough position. If they try act now, they risk a backlash at the ballot box next November. On the other hand, they may never have another opportunity this good to push reform through. They could lose seats anyway next year, and they would have wasted a chance to accomplish something Democrats have been talking about since Truman.

That is not to say that health reform will inevitably be derailed again. The Democrats need to do two things. First they have to show that healthcare reform will not hurt the middle class at all. Second, they must make the argument that healthcare reform is vital to our economic interests. If they can convince middle class families that their reforms will result in substantially lower costs which will make their lives easier, then these voters will be more inclined to support reform.

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