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More Nevadans unhappy with reform package and in Reid’s efforts pushing it

Support for the health care reform package moving through Congress continues to drop among Nevadans, as does support among the state’s Democrats and independents for the work done on the bill by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal shows.

That same poll shows nearly one in five Nevadans would elect to pay a fine by the government rather than buy health insurance under the new plan.

The poll found that 35 percent of Nevadans support the attempt to correct inadequacies in the nation’s health care system, a 4 percentage point drop from a December poll that found 39 percent of the state’s voters approved of health reform efforts.

In August, 43 percent of the state’s voters backed reform.

Among the state’s Democrats, 66 percent approve of Reid’s efforts to get a health care reform bill through the U.S. Senate, also down 4 percentage points since December. Democrats who disapprove are at 27 percent, up 9 points since December. Statewide, 33 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove.

Perhaps even more critical for Reid, President Barack Obama’s point man for passage of the legislation, is the fact that his disapproval rating among independents for his work on health care rose to 74 percent, compared to 53 percent in December.

Brad Coker, managing partner of the Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the telephone poll of 625 registered voters Tuesday through Thursday, said the plummeting numbers for both the overall plan and Reid largely reflect a distaste by the public for the wheeling and dealing done to gain the 60 votes needed for the health reform bill to pass the Senate.

"Voters had been told things would be different under the Democrats," Coker said. "They were actually told by (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi that the ‘swamp would be drained.’ But this has been politics as usual. To get a bill passed, they still make sausage the way they always make sausage, and it’s not a pretty thing to see. The fact that Reid was leading the arm twisting hasn’t helped him."

To get the 60th vote necessary to get the health reform bill out of the Senate, Reid negotiated with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who received numerous benefits for his state, including having the federal government pick up the full cost of a proposed expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska at an estimated cost of $100 million over 10 years.

Reid also worked hard to win the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., by helping her procure Medicaid help worth at least $100 million in 2011.

Only 16 percent of Nevada voters approved of "concessions" and "compromises" fashioned by Democrats to gain the 60 votes needed in the Senate, while 72 percent disapproved.

"There is an overwhelming disdain for the process," said Erik Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for most of the health care questions.

The question concerning overall support was reworded from the December poll, which asked respondents if they supported "Obama’s proposal to reform health care." The current poll asked survey takers if they support legislation that "appears likely to pass Congress and be signed into law" by Obama.

Coker said it is doubtful that growing disapproval of independents on the issue can be overcome and that Reid will be sent back to Washington next year.

Poll results published Saturday showed him trailing potential GOP challengers Danny Tarkanian, Sue Lowden and Sharron Angle.

"The key votes in Nevada are found in the independent voters," Coker said. "The fact that there is a big shift means big trouble for him. His re-election is a long shot. I think part of this shift reflects the wish of independents that he was spending more time on the economy."

Herzik is not as pessimistic as Coker about Reid’s chances for re-election once the health care bill becomes law.

"A lot of this criticism is going to fade," Herzik said. "People will move on to the next topic. Certainly there will be residual damage, but Reid will be able to say that 300,000 Nevadans got insurance because of what he has done. He can say it is a deal he is proud to have made, that he made it before and he’d make it again to help Nevadans."

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the January poll reflects a distrust of government, particularly since 77 percent of voters say tax increases are likely if health reform efforts become law and nearly half believe that health care rationing and cuts in Medicare will result.

Those numbers haven’t moved much since the December poll.

Obama and Reid, among other Democratic Party leaders, have repeatedly tried to reassure the American public, specifically the middle class, that taxes won’t go up and health care would expand, not contract.

"People have seen how the government reacted to (Hurricane) Katrina and security issues at airports, and it’s hard for them to believe that the government could handle health care well," Damore said.

Coker said the fact that 19 percent of Nevadans polled said they would rather pay a fine than buy insurance should give government leaders pause.

"Once people find out it’s much cheaper to go without insurance until they need it, that number is going to grow."

The poll found that 72 percent of voters overall would purchase or maintain their insurance. That figure jumps to 77 percent among those who already have insurance.

When the question of purchasing insurance is broken down by age, however, only about half of those in the 18-34 age bracket would buy it, compared to 71 percent in the 35-64 age bracket and 94 percent of those over 65.

Of the 12 percent who don’t have insurance now, 44 percent said they would purchase it. An equal amount wouldn’t.

However, the numbers coming from that small subset of respondents has a very wide margin of error, plus or minus 10 percentage points.

Nevertheless, the poll "certainly doesn’t show that the majority of people without insurance are going to go out and buy it," Coker said.

The health care reform bill, which mandates that insurance companies cannot deny coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition, requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. The annual fine for an individual is $750, or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater; for a family the fine is $2,250.

Coker said it won’t be long before people realize they are better off economically if they go without insurance until they need it. He noted that a family that pays $1,000 a month for insurance could bank $120,000 in 10 years by going without insurance. That figure would be before $22,500 in fines were paid.

"The way the proposed law stands now, they can’t refuse you from buying insurance when you get sick, and they can’t charge you any more than someone else your age," he said. "So you’re better off financially not buying it. Once that catches on, that could put insurance companies out of business."

Coker said those who are cynical may think that is the goal of the current plan. "That way, there would be no alternative to go to a government plan, which many liberal Democrats wanted anyway."

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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