77% in state back health care for all


Herald Writer

Washington residents overwhelmingly support efforts to provide health care to those who don’t have it, and are willing to pay up to $50 a year each in extra taxes to make sure it happens, a new survey says.

That was among the findings of a recent poll of state residents about health issues conducted by the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Results were released in conjunction with a conference todayc in downtown Seattle to help build public support for expanding health care to the estimated 43 million Americans who don’t have it.

"People without health insurance are typically men and women who work hard but cannot afford health insurance for themselves and their families," said Stuart Schear, a spokesman for the foundation, which allocates $450 million each year to health care projects nationally.

Health care, business, insurance, labor, religious and consumer groups, which often have been bitterly divided over health care, have been invited to the meeting, one of seven nationally.

Estimates on the number of Washington’s 5.8 million residents without health insurance varies from about 11 percent to nearly 16 percent, with adults earning $25,000 or less being mostly likely to be uninsured.

The recent poll found that 77 percent of Washingtonians support measures to ensure that all families and children have access to health insurance, even if it means they would have to help pay for it.

A follow-up question found that 73 percent of those polled said they would be willing to pay up to $50 a year in additional taxes to ensure that more Americans have health insurance.

The poll, conducted in mid-November, was based on interviews with 300 state residents. The findings have a margin of error of 4 percent.

Other results from the Washington poll found that 53 percent of state residents support making health care for the uninsured a priority for the new president and Congress during the next year.

In fact, only one other issue—passing laws to ensure the financial stability of Social Security—got higher marks.

For comparison, only 32 percent of the respondents said cutting federal taxes should be a priority.

Foundation participants say the number of Americans without health insurance could be cut in half by steps they are recommending to Congress:

  • Expanding Medicaid so that, for example, a family of three making about $19,000 a year could receive health care through the federal program.

  • Giving states more money to expand health care coverage to poor working adults.

  • Giving tax credits to businesses that give extra money to low-wage employees to pay for health care costs when they might otherwise not be able to afford coverage.

    Estimated price tag of the recommendations is $20 billion a year.

    When asked about its chances of being approved by a politically divided Congress, American Nurse Association President Mary Foley said: "I believe it does have a chance. Uniformly, health care and education were the two issues … on the mind of the public … when they went to the polls."

    The survey is just one part of an effort by the New Jersey-based foundation to bring together groups that have previously clashed over health insurance and reform issues: Families USA, a labor and consumer group; the Health Insurance Association of America; the American Nurses Association; the Catholic Health Association; Service Employees International Union; the American Hospital Association; the American Medical Association; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

    In the past, those groups "have fought over every conceivable health care policy issue," Schear said.

    "We think we could break the gridlock that has occurred over many years on this issue," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which is among those attending the Seattle health care conference.

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