Little Support for GOP Plan to Privatize Medicare: Poll

NORWALK, Conn., USA (June 13, 2011) – A new poll finds little support for privatizing Medicare, even though most people agree the government-sponsored health insurance program for older Americans needs major changes if it is to survive.

Recently Medicare’s trustees indicated that funding to run the Medicare program, which offers health insurance to an estimated 45 million Americans 65 and older, could run dry by 2024 unless substantial cost-costing steps are taken.

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled a plan earlier this year to reform Medicare by setting up vouchers — subsidized by the federal government — that would enable senior citizens to purchase health insurance from private companies — hence privatizing the insurance. The proposal has been criticized in many quarters.

According to today’s Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, slightly more than one in ten of the respondents supported the plan to privatize Medicare. Overwhelmingly, the respondents felt the program should be shored up, in part, by lowering the fees paid to drug companies, hospitals and doctors-and not by raising costs to consumers.

While most people accept the argument that Medicare reform is necessary to keep it affordable, only a few people think that these changes should include privatizing Medicare, higher taxes or increases in out-of-pocket spending, said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. Cutting the prices and fees paid to drug companies, hospitals and doctors are much more acceptable.

Added Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit consumer service group that works for affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities: The poll basically tracks what we hear on our phone lines: people with Medicare mistrust radical changes and they generally want the program to continue as it currently does with the government guaranteeing a set of benefits. They can’t understand why the solution would be to make them pay more… [And] a lot of folks do understand that the main problem is not Medicare. It is high health-care costs.

Today’s poll also found that opinions differed on specific solutions to revamp the ailing program. Specifically:

  • Two-thirds of those polled said cut prescription drug prices while 59 percent said wealthy seniors should shoulder more of the cost burden.
  • Forty-four percent said hospitals should get lower reimbursement fees from Medicare (28 percent were against this idea), and 40 percent said doctors should receive lower reimbursements (33 percent opposed this recommendation).
  • A smaller plurality said people should be charged more for treatments that aren’t cost effective (37 percent for and 26 percent against).
  • But higher co-payments and deductibles were a non-starter among most of those polled, with 59 percent opposing increases in co-payments and deductibles (versus 18 percent in favor) and 50 percent opposing increases in taxes as Medicare costs rise (with 23 percent in favor).
  • The respondents were about equally split on how they felt about raising the age of eligibility for Medicare.

Age also played a role in the responses of those polled, with older people more likely to favor leaving Medicare as it is, meaning leaving traditional Medicare in place while also keeping the Medicare Advantage program that is provided by private insurance companies.

The poll included 2,027 U.S adults over age 18 who were surveyed online between May 31 to June 2, 2011 by Harris Interactive one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, and HealthDay, a leading producer and syndicator of health news.

The complete findings of the newest joint Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll are available here. HealthDay’s news report is available here.

 

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TABLE 1

AWARENESS OF DEBATE ABOUT FUTURE OF MEDICARE

  How aware, if at all, are you of the recent discussion and debate about the future of Medicare?

Base: All Adults

%

Very aware

17

Aware

23

Somewhat aware

41

Not at all Aware

19

 

TABLE 2

THOSE VERY AWARE OR AWARE – SOME DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES

  How aware, if at all, are you of the recent discussion and debate about the future of Medicare?

All Who Are Very Aware or Aware

41%

Age

18-24

25-29

30-39

40-49

50-64

65+

 

30%

34%

34%

35%

44%

61%

Gender

Male

Female

 

47%

35%

Party ID

Republican

Democrat

Independent

 

41%

38%

48%

 

TABLE 3

HOW MUCH CHANGE IS NECESSARY TO KEEP MEDICARE AFFORDABLE

As we look to the future, how much change, if any, do you think is necessary to keep the Medicare program affordable for the average American?

Base: All Adults

Total

%

Political Affiliation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

A great deal

52

57

47

53

Some

29

27

31

30

Not much

5

4

7

4

None at all

2

1

3

2

Not sure

11

10

11

11

Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4A

FAVOR/OPPOSE PROPOSAL FOR MEDICARE VOUCHER (NO SPONSOR MENTIONED)

One proposal to change the Medicare program is that the government would provide everyone who is eligible with a voucher they could use to buy their own policies from private health insurance companies. Would you favor or oppose this idea?

Base: All Adults (Split Sample)

Total

%

Political Affiliation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

Oppose

28

18

38

29

Favor

25

32

19

26

Not sure

47

50

43

45

 

TABLE 4B

FAVOR/OPPOSE PROPOSAL FOR MEDICARE VOUCHER (WHEN DESCRIBED AS

REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL)

 

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed to change the Medicare program so that the government would provide everyone who is eligible with a voucher that they could use to buy their own policies from private health insurance companies. Would you favor or oppose this idea?

Base: All Adults (Split Sample)

Total

%

Political Affiliation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

Oppose

35

14

52

36

Favor

25

44

11

27

Not sure

40

42

37

37

 

TABLE 5

PREFERRED ROLES OF GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE INSURANCE IN MEDICARE PROGRAM

In general, which one of the following options do you think would be best for the American people?

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Political Affiliation

People Aged 50 and Over

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

50-64

65+

%

%

%

%

%

%

The Medicare program we have now, where people can choose the government run program or a plan from a private health insurance company

48

48

53

45

56

64

A Medicare program solely run by private insurance companies

13

22

4

17

10

13

A Medicare program solely provided by government

12

4

17

13

10

6

Not sure

28

26

26

25

24

17

Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 6

FAVOR/OPPOSE 8 PROPOSALS FOR SLOWING GROWTH OF MEDICARE SPENDING

Many experts believe that we will need to make some tough decisions to pay for, or at least slow down the rate of growth of Medicare costs in the future. Would you favor or oppose each of the following proposals for doing this?

Base: All Adults

 

Favor

Oppose

Not Sure

Cutting the price paid for prescription drugs

%

66

17

18

Having people with higher incomes pay more for their Medicare benefits then people with lower incomes

%

59

18

23

Cutting the fees paid to hospitals

%

44

28

27

Cutting the fees paid to doctors

%

40

33

27

Raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 66 and then to 67 as the number of people this age increases

%

38

37

25

Using measures of cost-effectiveness to charge people more for services that are not as cost-effective

%

37

26

38

Increasing taxes as the Medicare costs increase

%

23

50

27

Increasing co-pays and deductibles so that out-of-pocket costs will increase

%

18

59

22

Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States May 31 to June 2, 2011 among 2,027 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.