Thursday, February 27, 2014

Newly Released Kaiser and CBS/NY Times Polls

Two polls -- Kaiser Foundation and CBS/New York Times -- dealing (in whole or in part) with health-insurance issues were released in recent days. Two points grabbed my attention.

First, the two polls showed virtually identical numbers on Americans' preferences for retaining, retooling, or repealing the Affordable Care Act. In the Kaiser poll, 8% want Congress to "Keep the law as it is," whereas another 48% want it to "Keep the law in place and work to improve it." Combined, these two categories suggest that 56% of Americans want the essential features of the ACA retained. Twelve percent want the law repealed and replaced "with a Republican-sponsored alternative" and another 19% want Congress to "repeal the law and not replace it." 

The CBS/NYT poll asked respondents: "Which comes closest to your view about the 2010 health care law? The law is working well and should be kept in place as is. There are some good things in the law, but some changes are needed to make it work better. OR, The law has so much wrong with it that it needs to be repealed entirely." Again, a combined 56% of respondents fell into one of the two categories favorable to retention of the ACA, although the component percentages were slightly different (6% keep as is, 50% make changes to improve). Forty-two percent called for repeal.


Second, although the retention numbers seem pretty good for Obamacare, basic "favorable/unfavorable" numbers do not. They were 35% and 47%, respectively, in the February Kaiser poll. Opposition seems to have really exploded among the uninsured, who might be expected to embrace the law. As shown in this Kaiser trend diagram, favorable responses to the ACA tended to exceed or match unfavorable ones among the uninsured for nearly four years of monthly polling. In the most recent Kaiser poll, however, unfavorable dominates favorable 56% to 22%.

As acknowledged by Kaiser (and highlighted by HuffPost/Pollster), it may not be opinions shifting so much as the composition of the uninsured. Those who were uninsured before the October 1, 2013 launching of the online exchanges presumably fell into at least two groups: those who were embracing the opportunity to sign-up for free or reduced-cost health insurance (and ultimately did so); and those who, for ideological (or other) reasons, were opposed to participating in Obamacare (and who decided not to).

As roughly 10 million Americans have now signed up for coverage, philosophical opponents of the ACA will comprise an ever-growing share of the uninsured. (As I discussed in another context, the uninsured include some well-off people who choose to pay directly for their medical treatment.) Kaiser summarizes the situation thusly: "As more Americans gain coverage under the law, we can expect the group who remain uninsured to change over time, and some changes in opinion may be attributable to changes in who remains uninsured, rather than a shift in opinion among individuals."

Also, because the uninsured comprise a relatively small share of the U.S. population (around 16%, according to Gallup research), their numbers among Kaiser's overall 1501-person sample would likely be small, thus increasing the margin of error for the uninsured-specific findings. In fact, Kaiser provides a nice methodology report, which states that 137 uninsured individuals were present in the "unweighted" sample (i.e., before statistical adjustments for any under- or over-representation of demographic subgroups to match their percentages of the nation's population). Associated with this subsample size, the margin of error for analyses focusing on the uninsured is plus/minus 9 percentage points (much larger than the typical +/- 3 for samples of around 1,000).

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