Photo: Ric Watkins
Photo: Ric Watkins

Georgians dislike health law but favor key provisions

Most Georgians don’t favor Obamacare.

But they do seem to like several important parts of it.

That seeming dichotomy is one of the more intriguing findings of a statewide survey on the Affordable Care Act conducted last week for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Among those polled, 57 percent said they have an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act, and only 31 percent think of it favorably. Yet nearly three-fourths support allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance to age 26, and two-thirds favor requiring insurers to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Those are two of the key elements of Obamacare.

Georgians also favored requiring insurers to cover the cost of birth control and contraceptives, and they favored limiting how much insurers can charge older people. They did give a thumbs down to a cornerstone of the law — the “individual mandate,” which requires most American adults to obtain insurance by Jan. 1. But they heavily favored a massive expansion of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

Odd? Not really, said Jonesboro resident Eve Cheely, who favors the law overall but takes a mixed view of its many aspects.

“There’s some of it I’m in favor of, and some of it I’m not in favor of,” said Cheely, 54. “Keeping kids on insurance until 26 I’m all right with. And people with pre-existing conditions should be covered. But providing for birth control? Uh-uh. I’m not for that.”

She calls the details of the law, “Like reading the fine print. It looks fine, but then you dig into the details.”

Many Georgians remain confused about the law even though one of its key elements, the new online Health Insurance Marketplace, will open in just a matter matter of days. Starting Oct. 1, consumers will be able to shop for health plans offered by private insurers on the insurance website, also known as an exchange, and find out whether they qualify for federal assistance to buy coverage.

Mixed views like Cheely’s may account for some of the apparent uncertainty about the law seen among Georgians in the poll.

For example, while 49 percent of respondents said the best approach to Obamacare would be to repeal it, only 28 percent wanted to repeal all of it, while 21 percent said they would repeal parts of it. Thirty-one percent said they want to wait and see how the law works, and 14 percent said they want to leave it as is.

This Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 12-Sept. 17 among a random sample of 801 adults in Georgia, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The sample represents all the adults in the state, including but not limited to registered voters. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Seth Brohinsky, an associate with the firm that conducted the poll, Abt SRBI, attributed some of that uncertainty to a lack of familiarity with the law. Only 37 percent of those surveyed said they had a “good understanding” of Obamacare while 62 percent said they were “not very clear” when it came to understanding it.

The lack of understanding tended to correlate with negative views, he noted.

Peggy Stracke, 59, said she opposes the new law “because there’s so much uncertainty.”

While she agrees with parts of the law, including the pre-existing conditions piece and insurance for dependents to age 26, “the couple things that I’m in favor of don’t apply to me right now.”

Stracke is covered through her husband’s retiree benefits and said, “We were content with our situation the way it was. So why mess with it? Just leave us alone.”

She echoed another theme common to those who would repeal the law.

“The bottom line,” she said, “is that I don’t like the idea of government being in control of my health care.”

Melissa Welsh, 31, of Milton, favors covering people with pre-existing conditions. But she opposes Obamacare overall and supports its repeal.

“I don’t think the government has any business being in the business of health care,” she said. “That’s too much intrusion.”

Welsh added that while she doesn’t have a clear understanding of the law, it appears government leaders don’t, either. “I think back to when (U.S. House speaker) Nancy Pelosi said they’d have to pass the law to know what’s in it. You don’t sign a contract before you read it,” she said.”

Maughtlyn Thomas, 51, is used to government management of health care, one of the reasons for her support of the law. The native of England who now lives in Lithonia moved to the U.S. eight years ago and works as a project manager for an accounting firm that provides her with coverage. In the U.K. she had access to the national health care system.

“A lot of people are saying they don’t want government involvement,” she said. “They want to handle it themselves. But then something goes wrong, something catastrophic happens, and then they want the government to help out. You can’t have it both ways. So make up your mind.”

Angelia Paul has decided she’s in favor of Obamacare. Her reasons are largely financial.

“We still pay for a person’s health care whether they’re covered or not,” the 49-year-old Buford resident said. “When (the cost of care is) written off at a government-administered hospital you’re still paying for it. If people understood how much of their tax dollars go to pay for the uninsured they might have a different viewpoint.”

Paul said some people with insurance aren’t concerned with those that do not have it.

“Things only matter to you when when they affect you,” she said. “Unless someone gets laid off it doesn’t matter to them. If I have health care I don’t worry about it”

That some Obamacare opponents might support a requirement to offer insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, for example, does not surprise her. “People realize any of us could suffer from a pre-existing condition.”

David Ziemer sees people who don’t have insurance every day working as a physician at Grady Hospital. The experience factored in when he said in the survey that he has a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s perceived as being a very costly program. Yes, it is, but in my view it is going to pay off in the long term,” said Ziemer, 60. “One way would be by having more people get preventative care, heading off delayed, costly treatment. Economically, it will work out. And from the humanistic point of view, it’s kind of the right thing to do.”

Ziemer noted that “everybody can hate big government” when it comes to health care, but he asked what is a good alternative.

“It just seems there should be a smoother, more intelligent way to take care of health care,” he said. “When people look at the individual parts (of the law), they like them. But when you ask them about Obamacare, they don’t like it. It hasn’t been well presented to the public, and it’s extremely complicated.”

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