Americans Reject Effort to End Obamacare Amid Ad Barrage

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Under the Affordable Health Care Act, hundreds of hospitals and doctors groups, including Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, have started getting financial incentives from the government to keep patients healthy and face penalties for those readmitted to the hospital too soon. Mount Sinai patient Ester Redd made it on a list of high-risk patients that she said saved her life and likely wouldn’t have existed without the new health law. Bloomberg's Shannon Pettypiece reports. (Source: Bloomberg)

Half of Americans say Republicans should stop demanding that President Barack Obama’s health-care plan be defunded as part of legislation to keep the government running even as they voice concern about the law’s impact.

Three in five people say they think the law will raise medical-care costs, and more say they will be worse off than better off under it, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

At the same time, by a margin of 50 percent to 43 percent, Americans say congressional Republicans should accept that it’s the law of the land, according to the Sept. 20-23 poll.

They “screwed it up beyond belief, and now they want to go back to nothing,” says John Beck, 57, a libertarian Republican from Austin, Texas, in a follow-up interview. “If we at least fix it, they could do something positive,” says Beck, an unemployed electrical engineer.

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The poll’s conflicting finding -- respondents expressing skepticism about the law while opposing its dismantling -- is probably a result of both a lack of information and an onslaught of negative advertising, says Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

A 40 percent plurality doesn’t know enough about the law to say what effect it will have on them. That’s after critics have outspent supporters by as much as 5 to 1, according to CMAG, which estimates $500 million has been spent on political and advocacy ads related to the law in the past three years.

Unanswered Criticism

“What’s turned people off is probably more likely the residue of hundreds of millions of dollars of negative advertising and negative opinion and business press, practically unanswered until just recently,” says Wilner.

CMAG says about $500 million more will be spent in the coming year as the law is rolled out. Much of that advertising will be positive, with Democratic candidates running in 2014 promoting the law’s benefits and states spending $3.7 billion in federal grant money to start up and boost their exchanges. California alone will spend $86 million on an ad campaign to enroll eligible residents, according to CMAG.

Still, Republicans in Congress are continuing a three-year quest to repeal the law. The Republican-led House has cast 41 votes to defund or delay various portions of the law.

With their latest attempt this week headed for defeat in the Senate, they are considering alternatives to choke off funding. Obama says he’ll veto any bill that unravels his signature policy achievement.

Across Lines

While most Republican lawmakers oppose a law that makes health insurance mandatory for Americans, many, like Arizona Senator John McCain, have been openly critical of their party’s effort to threaten a government shutdown if it isn’t defunded.

The call for a cease fire cuts across partisan lines, with 31 percent of Republicans in the Bloomberg poll saying their party should accept the law and move on to other priorities. Fifty-nine percent of Republican respondents say the party should fight on, as do 46 percent of independents.

“It’s a step in the right direction, although it’s just a step,” says Amber Botsch, a 39-year-old Republican from Jackson, Minnesota. “They should just overturn portions of it because some of it is probably good and can certainly stay,” says Botsch, a homemaker. In the end, “it’s definitely going to be beneficial.’

Even so, only 13 percent of respondents say Obamacare will bring overall health-care costs down and that just 22 percent expect to be better off once the law takes full effect.

Cost Concern

One major concern is that the law will cause U.S. health-care costs to skyrocket. Three-fifths of respondents say they expect costs to rise in the next 12 months, including 68 percent of independents and 39 percent of Democrats.

“The insurance is going to be a little bit over my head,” says Sylvia Trim, 60, a Democrat from Brownsville, Texas, who voted for Obama. Yet “I don’t have a choice” not to purchase it, says Trim, a home health aide. “It’s a burden to me.”

Americans are divided over whether the law will change their own access to health care, their insurance, or the way they pay for treatment. Forty-five percent say it’s at least fairly likely to affect them, while 51 percent say it’s only somewhat likely or not likely to change anything for them.

The deluge of negative advertising has not only affected public perception of the law, it has also changed attitudes about Obama’s management of health care. Thirty-nine percent say they approve of how he’s handled the issue compared with a high of 51 percent in October 2010, months after the law passed.

‘Don’t Know’

Juanita Main, a 68-year-old retired convenience-store manager in Jefferson, North Carolina, says she’s gotten most of her information about the law from television advertising that she describes as “negative about everything.”

“We don’t know if insurance rates are going to go up every year; we don’t know how we’ll be taken care of with catastrophic illness,” says Main, a Democrat.

“I just want to know if North Carolina takes our Medicaid away from us, what do we do? Move?” says Main, referring to the program for lower-income Americans.

Expanding Medicaid, which is funded by both federal and state dollars, is a key part of the law. Just under half of U.S. states, including North Carolina, are expected to refuse the money and not expand their rolls.

“There is so much misunderstanding out there,” says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “They haven’t done a very good job of defending themselves,” he says of the Obama administration.

‘Creepy Uncle’

In the meantime, a number of outside groups, including Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit co-founded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, have been buying air time to advertise against the law.

One ad, which the group began running in Ohio and Virginia on July 9, features a mother named Julie whose son suffers from seizures. She asks “if we can’t pick our own doctor, how do I know my family’s going to get the care they need?” The law doesn’t prevent people from choosing their own doctors, though there may be out-of-network costs and individuals may be limited in their choice of plans by their budgets.

More recent spots, dubbed “Creepy Uncle Sam,” attempt to persuade young adults to “opt out” of health-insurance exchanges for which enrollment begins on Oct 1.

Playing Doctor

The web ads come from a group called Generation Opportunity, also backed by the Koch brothers. While the group hasn’t bought any television time, it plans to spend $750,000 to promote the ads and on a national tour in the next couple of months, according to David Pasch, its communications director. Under the law, the individual mandate to purchase insurance applies to almost everyone, so it isn’t possible to opt out.

In one ad, an oversized Uncle Sam pops up at the foot of the examination table of a woman with her legs in stirrups. “Don’t let government play doctor,” the announcer says as the woman screams. Then Uncle Sam waves and cranks a speculum.

Another features a young man lying on his side with a bare back as Uncle Sam appears snapping blue plastic surgical gloves.

Seventy-five percent of poll respondents say they are at least somewhat closely following what is happening with its implementation, compared with 25 percent who say they aren’t.

Those who stand to benefit the most are paying the least attention and don’t feel they know enough about the law to say if it’ll make them better off.

Information Confusion

Just 22 percent of individuals with a household income of $50,000 or less say they are following what is happening with the law very closely, compared with 38 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.

Forty-three percent of lower-income earners say they don’t have enough information to form an opinion on how they’ll be affected, as opposed to 31 percent of higher earners.

Joe Sneed, a retired autoworker from St. Louis, says he’s confused. “Republicans say one thing and Democrats say another,” he says. Sneed, a Democrat, says he suspects that talk radio hosts and Republican opponents are “twisting” the facts.

The balance of power over the airwaves could begin to shift as government, nonprofits and the state exchanges are now engaged in a campaign to educate Americans about the plan.

Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, says it will be harder for Republicans to capitalize on some of the shortcomings of the law.

“There’s this major effort to get out the word, so all the efforts of the Republicans to misshape it are going to fail,” says Levin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heidi Przybyla in Washington at hprzybyla@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at Jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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