Although sharply divided along party lines, most Americans favor an overhaul of the health care system, but they are concerned that the quality of care will decrease significantly if government is allowed to run it.
While 73% of respondents believe the health care system needs a "complete overhaul" or "major changes," nearly one-half (47%) say they fear a government-run program would lead to deterioration in quality.
The IBD/TIPP Poll of 922 Americans in the first week of June points to a sharp divide along party lines: Eight of 10 Democrats believe the government should guarantee health insurance for all, while almost as many Republicans (72%) believe health care is not government's responsibility.
If the government were to run health care, 33% of Democrats believe the quality of care would improve significantly and another 34% believe it would not be affected one way or the other. On the other hand, 77% of Republicans anticipate a decline in quality.
Eighty-one percent of Democrats express confidence in President Obama's ability to reform the health care system in a way that will satisfy most Americans, while only 26% of Republicans believe so.
(Independents are almost equally divided on the issue, with 56% expressing confidence in the president's ability to do so, compared with 43% who do not.)
The near-consensus for overhaul appears to stem from soaring costs and estimates that as many as 47 million people in America are going without health coverage.
Perhaps most troubling to advocates of a "single payer" or "public option" to compete with traditional market-based private insurance is an emerging suspicion among Americans of government intervention in the private sector.
A majority (53%) of Americans do not support government control or ownership of key industries such as health care or energy. Thirty-four percent of Democrats, 79% of Republicans and 53% of independents say they want the government to stay out of key industries.
Americans see the recent aggressive government control of financial institutions and the automotive industry in a negative light. For example, 68% of Americans are skeptical of the government's recent decision to take a partial stake in the domestic automobile industry, with 49% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans and 74% of independents believing it will not solve the industry's problems.
Some pundits see President Obama's proposal to create a public plan as a way station to full-blown government-run health care in the future.
An increasing number of Americans see the country drifting toward socialism. Last August, only 25% of Americans surveyed in our IBD/TIPP Poll agreed with the statement, "The U.S. is evolving into a socialist state." When asked the same question this month, the number jumped to 35%.
The skepticism about government control may be rooted in the performance of other government-run programs.
Medicare is in dire straits, spending so much more than it takes in that, at the present rate, the system will operate in the red as early as 2017, according to the Medicare trustees' report. The Social Security trustees recently announced that the Social Security trust fund will run out of money by 2037, four years earlier than previous estimates.
Lack of success in government-run health care systems overseas may also contribute to Americans' quality concerns.
In Sweden, where the government pays almost all health care costs, budgetary concerns are forcing rationing, leading to waiting lists for medical appointments and surgery. Health care systems in Great Britain and Canada have also been beset with problems, with the waiting time to see a specialist in Canada running as long as 18 weeks.
In summary, Americans want an overhaul but do not see their government as the locus of control.
Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.