POLITICS

Most Favor Health Care Reform In New Poll

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds wide public support for overhauling health care this year. There is, however, concern about its high costs and the implications for the country.

The study says that 56 percent favor a bill, 33 percent oppose it, and 12 percent do not feel strongly either way. Just over half say controlling costs should be its priority, and most of the rest say it should focus on expanding coverage.

To finance the bill, 61 percent believe employers who do not provide insurance should pay a fee. Fifty-eight percent say the wealthy should pay higher taxes to help fund it.

The House health care plan (PDF), released Tuesday, includes provisions to do both things.

While short-term costs will likely be significant, various experts say a strong piece of legislation will save money and reduce the federal deficit in the long-run.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, sees the status quo as a road to fiscal disaster. "We have to do something about health care costs; it's really not an option," he said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "If we do nothing, the deficit goes through the roof and the economy is going to melt down."

Important insiders agree. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, believes that health reform done right will save money in the long-run. Orszag considers mounting health care costs "the real deficit threat," and affirms that Obama's reform plan will be "deficit neutral over the next decade."

Karen Kornbluh, chief policy director for Barack Obama (and dubbed by some as Obama's "brain"), echoed Orszag, declaring that health care costs are the single biggest contributor to the budget deficit. "Fixing health care is the way to stop the hemorrhaging," she said in a speech at Pitzer College.

Skeptics say reforming health care will be expensive and raise the deficit. Kornbluh disagreed, and said that the administration's plan will reduce the deficit. "There is a bit of a free lunch in that sense," she said.

The most controversial aspect of the health care debate is the public option, which the White House and most Democratic leaders have championed.

"The public option does two things," Baker said. "One is it will save immediately on administration costs, and secondly, it creates a mechanism through which we can hold down provider costs and offer more comprehensive and cheaper care to people."

Whether reform will include a public option remains uncertain as conservative Democrats are uncertain and Republicans flatly oppose it, partly out of nervousness over costs and implications for businesses. But a health care bill without a public option may not solve the flaws in the system.

"We need the public option to realistically hold down costs," said Baker. "Private insurers have relatively little incentive to focus on controlling costs. They haven't contained costs to date and there's no reason to think that absent a public plan, prices won't continue to rise at an unsustainable rate in the long-run."

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