An analysis of American attitudes on healthcare released by Gallup on Monday concluded that a majority of Americans “reject a government-run healthcare system.”
The report stands in contrast with other recent public opinion polls that have shown consistently high levels of support among Americans for the creation of a national single-payer, “Medicare for all” healthcare system.
The variation in support between polls seems to depend on how the issue is framed, suggesting many Americans may be confused about exactly what a Medicare for all system entails.
What is Medicare For All?
Medicare for all is a proposal to guarantee healthcare to all Americans by expanding the current Medicare system to include all Americans. Created in 1966, Medicare is a taxpayer-funded federal program that provides healthcare coverage to elderly and disabled Americans.
After running on the issue during the 2016 presidential election, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced detailed legislation to create a Medicare for all program in September 2017.
Today, our illustrious president said that Medicare for all "can't be afforded." Mr. President, it's your disastrous efforts to take health care away from millions of Americans that can't be afforded. pic.twitter.com/caCdq13ynH
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 20, 2018
Under Sanders’ proposal, individuals and businesses would fund the expansion of Medicare by paying taxes in lieu of premiums to for-profit insurance companies.
The proposal has surged in popularity since Sanders’ made it a focus of his presidential campaign. In the 2018 midterm elections, more than half of the Democratic Congressional nominees ran on Medicare for all and 16 Senators and 123 members of the House have co-sponsored the legislation.
The Gallup report released this week found that just 40 percent of Americans – 65 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans – “prefer a government-run healthcare system.”
The framing by Gallup, however, is vague and doesn’t necessarily reflect Americans’ views on Medicare for all specifically.
Under Sanders’ Medicare for all plan, the government would supply health insurance to all Americans but would not run hospitals and clinics, which would remain privately owned and operated.
This is a critical distinction between the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and Sanders’ proposal, which is more similar to the Canadian healthcare system.
Other recent public opinion polls that asked about Medicare for all more specifically found far greater support for the proposal.
In October, a Harris poll found that an overwhelming 70 percent of Americans – including a majority of Republicans – supported “providing Medicare to every American.”
About 86 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans said that they either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported doing so.
The results were very similar to a Reuters poll released in August that also found that 70 percent of Americans and 52 percent of Republicans supported Medicare for all.
That poll asked respondents, “When it comes to the U.S. healthcare system, would you support or oppose a policy of Medicare for all?”
The Full Picture
Neither poll provided a description of what Medicare for all is or any details about the proposal.
When a Kaiser Family Foundation poll did so in March, it found lower levels of support but still showed that a majority of Americans supported the proposal.
The Kaiser Family poll asked respondents, “Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan, or Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan?”
About 59 percent said they were in favor, including 36 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents.
“Medicare is a very popular program, so the idea of expanding it to everyone is popular as well,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNBC.
“The advantage of Medicare for all, which is much closer to how the rest of the world provides healthcare to their residents, is that you can achieve universal coverage at a lower cost.”
‘State of Crisis’
While there may be some ambiguity about just how many Americans support a single payer system, it’s clear that Americans are not happy with their current healthcare system.
In a 2017 poll, Gallup found that 71 percent of Americans think the healthcare system is “in a state of crisis” or has “major problems.”
The polling group also found last week that a majority of Americans are no longer satisfied with the Affordable Care Act – an Obama-era bill that sought to maintain the for-profit health insurance industry but expand access through a public option.
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