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Misleading Polls and the Ryan Plan

2:00 PM, May 9, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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In truth, CBS News and the New York Times describe the proposed reforms more accurately (although they could have mentioned the fact that anyone who is at least 55 years old wouldn’t be affected). Meanwhile, Quinnipiac slightly mischaracterizes the Republican proposal in a couple of different ways. First, it is actually incorrect to say that, under the proposed reforms, seniors would “ from the government.” That would describe a voucher program, which, as the CBO notes, the Republican proposal is not.  (For those who doubt the significance of this distinction, look at the pains that the Democrats, including Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, have taken to describe the GOP proposal as a “voucher” plan.) In truth, the proposal calls for seniors to choose their preferred plan and for premium support to be paid, by the government, directly to the insurer — which fits with the CBS News/New York Times description.

Secondly, Quinnipiac refers to giving seniors “a fixed amount of money.” While this is true for a given senior in a given year, on the whole it is inaccurate. The amount of premium support that the government would provide for each senior would not in fact be fixed but would be based on each senior’s income and health status, with poor seniors getting every bit of their care provided at taxpayer expense. Also, the amount of premium support would not be fixed over time but would rise each year, with inflation. 

Further polling is surely needed to see how the American public is responding to this bold new proposal advanced by Paul Ryan and the House Republicans, and such polling will no doubt change over time. So far, however, when a description accurately summarizes the Republican proposal, people seem to like it. It’s no small thing that Americans like the sound of a program in which “the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance” more than they like the sound of a program in which “the government pays doctors and hospitals” directly — and that this is true even when Republicans are greatly underrepresented in the poll. 

This, along with the widespread opposition to Obamacare, further reflects the fact that, when it comes to reducing health costs, Americans trust competition among private insurers — fueled by cost-conscious individuals with a stake in the game — more than they trust additional government regulation.

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