Taylor noted that the poll is only the first of a planned series to gauge the public's attitude toward the new administration's approach to health care, so it's too early to spot trends. One poll, conducted a year ago by Harris Interactive and Harvard University while the election campaign was underway, did find a big partisan gap when it came to the notion of "socialized medicine," with 70 percent of Republicans saying that such a system would be worse than the current model and the same percentage of Democrats believing it would be an improvement.
But the Obama proposals are not looking toward a government-run "single-payer system," such as those in Canada or the United Kingdom, Taylor noted. "Nobody here is proposing a government-run system," he said. "They are proposing an expansion of both the private and public sector."
Another health care expert agreed. "I don't know that [the poll] necessarily says that people definitively want more government-run or government-controlled systems," said Dr. Bruce Auerbach, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a strong advocate of recent landmark reforms that mandated health insurance coverage for all Massachusetts residents. "However, I think [poll respondents] do want the government to step in and make sure that they can all get insurance and retain insurance."
The success of the Massachusetts initiative -- an estimated 340,000 formerly uninsured state residents have gained coverage since the plan was introduced in late 2006 -- may have convinced many Americans that similar initiatives might work at the federal level, according to Auerbach. And, the worsening economy, coupled with the popularity of the new president, may also be playing a role in the poll results, he said.
"At this point in time, there's a lot of the American public that is going to trust whatever President Obama rolls out with his team," Auerbach said. And as millions of Americans worry about losing their employer-based health insurance, "more people are going to look favorably at proposals that the government rolls out that provide them with more assurance that they will be able to get -- and retain -- health coverage," he said.
But not everyone agreed with the poll results. Robert Moffit is director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank. He believes that the poll did not provide respondents with the necessary context to give truly informed answers.
"This kind of polling doesn't really talk very specifically about the kinds of trade-offs that people will have to make" should the Obama reforms go through, Moffitt said. "For example, the Congressional Budget Office has found that if the government negotiates [drug] pricing -- if the government fixes prices for drugs below whatever the market is -- this will mean that the government will then have to ration drugs. So, are you now in favor of that as a policy?"