12:20pm

Fri March 18, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Opposition To Health Mandate Softens When Details Are Clearer

If there's been one constant in public opinion about the big federal law overhauling health care, it's been this: People don't like the idea of being required to have health insurance.

But is that really the case? The latest monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that at least some of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act might be due to a misunderstanding of exactly what the insurance mandate means.

When asked what elements of the law respondents want kept or repealed, two-thirds said the "individual mandate" for insurance should be done away with. That's been virtually unchanged over the past several months Kaiser has asked people. It's also just about the only major element of the law that lacks majority support.

This month, however, Kaiser pollsters probed a little deeper on whether people understand what that "individual mandate" requires.

And indeed, Kaiser found many don't. Opposition to the mandate fell to 35 percent when pollsters told respondents who initially opposed the requirement that most people who get coverage through their employers would continue to do so — and that would automatically satisfy the requirement. No need then to buy insurance separately. In that case, 55 percent of people polled said the mandate should stay.

Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman tells Shots:

It seems that many people with insurance think somehow they will be hit with the mandate when they won't, because it only affects people without insurance. And when they are told that, opposition drops substantially.

Opposition also dropped to less than a majority when would-be repealers were told that without a mandate people might hold off "until they are seriously ill to buy health insurance, which will drive up health insurance costs for everyone." In that case, though, 48 percent still said the mandate should be repealed, while 40 percent said it should remain.

In some ways, however, the mixed results shouldn't be all that surprising. Just short of a year after the law's passage, what's the most common feeling people say they associate with it? Confusion! Fifty-three percent of respondents said that's where the health law has left them. That's down a scant 2 percentage points from a year ago. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.