Poll: Majority agree that changes are needed in health care

Though a majority of Nevadans agree that changes to the nation's health care system are needed, half oppose President Barack Obama's proposal to reform that system, according to a poll commissioned by the Review-Journal.

The telephone poll of 400 registered voters found that 65 percent of Nevadans believe major changes in the nation's health care system are necessary to provide affordable insurance and reduce health care costs.

But just 40 percent support Obama's reform proposal, with 50 percent opposing it and 10 percent undecided.

Washington, D.C.'s Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. conducted the poll Monday and Tuesday. Overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Nevadans were divided along party lines on the issue of health care reform.

Just 44 percent of Republicans think major structural changes to the health care system are necessary, while 86 percent of Democrats think so.

Seventy percent of Democrats support Obama's proposal, while 84 percent of Republicans oppose it. The margin of error for these subgroups is higher, at plus or minus 7 percentage points for Democrats and plus or minus 8 percentage points for Republicans.

In general, the results show "support for health care reform in the abstract," said Erik Herzik, chairman of the University of Nevada, Reno's political science department.

"It's a very common story for general support to shift to opposition when it comes to specific proposals," Herzik said.

"What's ironic about the opposition to Obama's so-called health plan is that very few Americans know the details of the proposal."

Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker agreed.

"There are still a lot of questions about what the plan will and will not do," he said. "The dirt is in the details."

Obama's plan is designed to extend health coverage to nearly 50 million uninsured Americans while restraining costs.

Nevada's poll results mirror similar nationwide polls that show public support for the plan slipping, Coker said.

Obama's administration is working to rebuild that support, while opponents have questioned the cost and scope of his plan and expressed fears that health care rationing will come along with it.

Angry protests at town halls on the issue have dominated news on the topic.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., have scheduled "tele-town hall" meetings to be conducted by telephone in the coming days.

Reid's is slated for Friday, at a time yet to be announced. Those interested in participating can register on his Web site at reid.senate.gov.

Berkley's tele-town hall will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call her Las Vegas office at 220-9823.

Berkley said she was intrigued by the poll results.

"On the one hand, a majority of Nevadans appear to support changes that will make health insurance more affordable and that will help guarantee access to vital medical care," Berkley said in a statement Thursday.

"At the same time, these numbers show there are still questions in the minds of some about plans now being debated in Congress."

Berkley said that ambivalence is why she has sought input on the issue from Nevadans. She called health care reform legislation "a work in progress."

Asked for Reid's take on the poll results, the senator's office issued a statement saying that Reid "is working to make affordable health insurance available to every American," improve preventative care, prevent insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing conditions and prevent the companies from dropping people who get sick.

"That seems to be what the people of Nevada want," said Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., agreed that health care reform is necessary.

But "Nevadans do not want Washington bureaucrats standing between themselves and their doctors."

"I do not support government-run health care," Heller said.

"Real health care reform will focus on lowering the cost of medical care and prescription drugs, implement tort reform to curb frivolous lawsuits, improve access to care in underserved areas and provide greater access to affordable health insurance."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.