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Poll: Americans want health care bill, but not the cost

By Susan Page, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Most Americans say it's important to overhaul health care this year, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, but they are less enthusiastic about some of the proposals to pay for it.


And while a majority say controlling costs should be the legislation's top goal, more than nine in 10 oppose limits on getting whatever tests or treatments they and their doctors think are necessary.

The findings underscore the difficult path ahead for the White House and Congress as the health care debate enters crunch time. President Obama, who has called for the House and Senate to pass bills before their August recess, met Monday with two key congressional chairmen to try to hammer out financing for the $1 trillion-plus legislation.

"For those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don't bet against us," Obama said at the White House.

One advantage for the president: A third of those surveyed say they trust him and congressional Democrats most when it comes to changing health care, compared with 10% who choose congressional Republicans. Another 45% trust doctors and hospitals the most.

The poll of 3,026 adults, surveyed Friday through Sunday, has a margin of error of +/—2 percentage points. Some questions, asked of half the sample, have an error margin of +/—3 points.

By 56%-33%, those surveyed endorse the idea of enacting major health care changes this year. Just one in four say it's not important to them.

When it comes to financing the costs, six of 10 favor the idea of requiring employers to provide health insurance for their workers or pay a fee instead. Increasing income taxes on upper-income Americans, an approach backed by House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is endorsed by 58%. Just over half support taxing sugary soft drinks.

By 53%-43%, though, those surveyed oppose taxing health care benefits above a certain level — Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., had floated that idea — and even more are against cutting Medicare costs, a provision of House and Senate plans.

"The dilemma is that Congress is trying to solve two problems simultaneously: save money and insure more people," says Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard. Those focused on costs are likely to have little tolerance for paying higher taxes to cover the uninsured, he says.

In the poll, 52% choose controlling costs as more important; 42% cite expanding coverage.

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Copyright 2009 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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