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GOP Medicare Plan Losing Seniors Support

POSTED: April 28, 2011, 12:00 am

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Senior citizens, whose fierce opposition to the 2010 health overhaul law helped propel Republicans' midterm election gains, have little appetite for the House GOP's plans to turn Medicare into a voucher-type program that sends beneficiaries to private plans but limits the amount of federal funding, according to a poll released today.

The survey this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found just 30 percent of seniors supported the idea of restructuring Medicare into a system where seniors are given government subsidies to shop for private coverage. In contrast, 62 percent of seniors said they wanted Medicare to be left alone with the program continuing to guarantee the same benefits to all enrollees.

Overall, the poll found Americans evenly divided on dramatically changing Medicare, part of a Republican plan to reduce the federal deficit. Fifty percent of respondents say they wanted Medicare to remain as is while 46 percent said it should be changed.

Respondents were split along party lines with 63 percent of Democrats in favor of maintaining the current Medicare system compared to 41 percent among Republicans. Independents were evenly split.

Among Republicans, about 55 percent favored the Medicare overhaul proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., compared to 34 percent among Democrats.

Democrats have been pounding Republicans' plan to change Medicare since Ryan released his plan earlier this month. Democrats say the plan would lead to seniors paying more for their health coverage, and President Barack Obama has said he opposed turning Medicare into a voucher program and instead favors strengthening a provision in the health law to slow the increase in Medicare costs.

Republicans have said any changes would be phased in gradually so they would not affect people who today are 55 and over.

The nationwide, telephone survey of 1,207 adults was conducted between April 7 and April 12, shortly after Ryan released his plan but before Obama's April 13 speech about his deficit proposal. (KHN is a program of the foundation.)

The Kaiser poll, which is the latest survey to find most Americans divided on the Medicare revamp, found most respondents don't understand the terms "voucher" or "premium support" that are at the heart of the Republican's plan. The survey also suggested their opinions could be easily swayed.

For example, when the survey told those initially opposed to changing Medicare that a voucher system would help reduce the deficit and let seniors choose plans based on cost and quality, support rose from 46 percent to 54 percent. Conversely, when initial supporters of a voucher system were told changing Medicare would put private insurers in charge of their benefits and cause seniors to pay more or get fewer benefits, preference for keeping Medicare rose from 50 percent to 68 percent.

Results from other polls have varied widely on the public's support for Ryan's Medicare proposal, with findings suggesting that support for keeping the traditional Medicare ranges from 39 to 84 percent of the country. Those differences appear to reflect both the timing of the surveys and the wording of the questions.

In addition to the Kaiser survey, a Gallup/USA Today poll released today found seniors were the age group most receptive of Ryan's plan. In that poll, 48 percent of seniors support Ryan's plan over Obama's plan, while 42 percent back the president. Overall, the poll found 43 percent of adults favored the Ryan plan.

The Gallup poll asked respondents if they favored the Ryan plan or the Democratic plan. The Kaiser poll asked if Medicare should be left alone or changed to a system in which people choose their insurance from a list of private health plans that may offer different benefits and the government pays a fixed amount toward the cost.

The monthly Kaiser survey again showed Americans evenly divided over the health law, although there was a slight decline in people who opposed it and an uptick in people who don't have an opinion. It also found the seniors' views remained steady with 31 percent favoring the health law, compared to 41 percent support among all adults.

The margin of error on the Kaiser survey was +/- 3 percentage points.

This article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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