Poll Shows Surprising Support for Patient-Driven Medicare Reform

Published October 22, 2012

A new poll finds that given the choice between President Obama’s Medicare reforms and those proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, more Americans favor Ryan’s approach.

Poll respondents favored Medicare reforms like Ryan’s over reforms like Obama’s by an 11 percentage point margin, 48-37 percent, according to poll results conducted by Reason-Rupe Public Opinion and released September 21. By a 68-25 percent margin, those surveyed also said they would accept cuts to their Medicare benefits as long as they received benefits at least equal to what they and their employers paid into the system.

Fair Description

While other polls conducted by media outlets typically compare Ryan’s plan to the Medicare status quo without describing it, the Reason-Rupe poll offered 1,006 adults this description of Obama’s current approach to Medicare reform, without identifying it as his:

(One proposal/another proposal) would create a board to identify what it views as non cost-effective medical treatments and would reduce or eliminate payments to doctors and health insurance companies for these services. Supporters say this would lower Medicare’s costs and ensure that seniors don’t have to pay more money out of pocket. Opponents say it would result in shortages and fewer medical innovations.

Asked whether they would favor or oppose Obama’s approach as described, 44 percent of respondents indicated they would favor it and 45 percent indicated they would oppose it, with 11 percent undecided or declining to respond.

Ryan’s approach to Medicare reform was described as:

(One proposal/another proposal) would introduce competition among health insurance companies by giving seniors a credit to purchase the health insurance plan of their choice from private companies or the government. Supporters say this would lower Medicare’s costs and ensure that seniors have more health care choices. Opponents say it would result in seniors paying more money out-of-pocket for their own health care.

Asked whether they would favor or oppose Ryan’s proposal as described, 48 percent of respondents indicated they would favor and 47 percent indicated they would oppose it, with 5 percent undecided or declining to respond. When asked to choose between the two approaches, 37 percent chose “the plan with the payment board,” 48 percent chose “the plan with the credit program,” and 16 percent were undecided or did not respond.

The Reason survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percent. Although Medicare has been identified as part of the “third rail” of federal entitlement programs because of its importance to older voters, 39 percent of poll respondents were at least 55. Another 20 percent of respondents were between the ages of 45 and 54. When those polled were asked for party identification, 28 percent identified as Republican, 36 percent as Democrat, and 29 percent as independent, according to Reason polling director Emily Ekins.

“Sixty-one percent think Ryan’s plan would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for seniors, and fifty-one percent think Obama’s plan would result in shortages and less medical innovation,” Ekins said. “These data suggest that while Americans would prefer to face neither cost, they would prefer to pay more than have lower-quality care.”

False Choices on Medicare

Ekins noted “typical polls asking about Medicare reform provide respondents with false choices,” citing an August 2012 New York Times/CBS poll as an example.

The New York Times/CBS poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, asked swing-state residents:

Which of these two descriptions comes closer to your view of what Medicare should look like for people who are now under 55 who would be eligible for Medicare coverage in about ten years? Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government providing seniors with health insurance, OR, Medicare should be changed to a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance.

In reply to this question, voters in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin replied that “Medicare should continue as it is” by dramatic margins of 62-28 percent, 64-27 percent, and 59-32 percent, respectively.

“Most polls find that Americans oppose cuts to Medicare. However, the Reason-Rupe poll finds evidence that suggests Americans think of Medicare spending as their own money,” Ekins said.

Jason Hart ([email protected]) writes for Media Trackers Ohio.