Voters Come Clean on Health Care

Reported by Dr. Nisha Nathan :

Voters who backed President Obama and those who supported Mitt Romney just can't seem to agree on key health care issues, a new study suggests. But they'll have to compromise if they want change in Washington.

The study, which drew on the combined data of three pre-election and exit polls, found that Obama supporters were three times more likely to say that health care was the most important problem facing the country.

These polls are a "very good prediction of what positions administrators will take on, and what directions they will move, especially in health and social policy," said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard University and lead author of the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. But, Blendon added, "People's views could change and shift and might not be as polarized as reflected in the polls."

The majority of voters, according to the study, saw President Obama as better than Mitt Romney at handling key issues in health care and Medicare, but not as good as his Democratic predecessors in the three previous elections. And while most Americans - 85 percent of Obama voters and 53 percent of Romney voters - agreed that the government should try to fix the health care system, how this fix should happen remained a point of contention.

Obama voters wanted the Affordable Care Act instituted and supported a more activist government that would intervene more directly in the U.S. health care system. They also opposed changing the structure of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Obama supporters also wanted the federal government to have more responsibility in health care reform, but they disagreed on how the the government should use this responsibility. The party remains split between the market approach in which the government provides incentives for healthy competition between hospitals, doctors and health insurance companies, and increased regulation of what insurance companies, doctors and hospitals can charge.

Abortion is another controversial health issue in which the country remains strongly divided. Forty-five percent of Obama voters thought that abortion should be legal no matter what, while 57 percent of Romney followers wanted abortion to be illegal in most or all cases, according to the study. Blendon said the president would likely have to balance both parties' views, a move that might pan out through Planned Parenthood funding and Supreme Court appointments.

While Obama's narrow win would force a delicate balance in health policy decisions, Blendon predicted that Romney followers would still be slightly disappointed. "The Affordable Care Act is not going to be repealed, and it will go ahead," he said. But with the Senate maintaining a Democratic majority and the House of Representatives staying Republican, there will have to be a lot of compromise when it comes to health care.

Expect push back, Blendon said. "In many parts of the country, this will not go ahead rapidly, even though the president won the election."

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