HELENA — A majority of Montanans still don’t like the federal health care overhaul law passed by Congress more than two years ago, according to a new Gazette State Poll.
The survey of 625 registered and likely Montana voters last week had 53 percent saying they oppose the Affordable Care Act, known familiarly as “Obamacare,” while 40 percent said they support it. Only 7 percent were undecided.
The law, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010, seeks to extend health coverage to most Americans by expanding public programs and offering subsidies to help lower- and moderate-income people buy private health insurance.
The expansion and the subsidies are set to begin in 2014 — the same year that the law requires all Americans to have health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in June, although it said the federal government cannot force the state to expand Medicaid as commanded by the law.
Medicaid is the state-federal program that covers medical bills for the poor. Under the ACA, states now can choose to expand Medicaid to cover everyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
The federal government promises to cover the cost of the expansion from 2014-2016, and 90 percent of the costs by 2020.
While a majority of Montanans still oppose the ACA, the spread in the Gazette poll is smaller than in earlier Montana polls.
In a Gazette State Poll 18 months ago, 57 percent of those surveyed said the law should be repealed, and only 34 wanted to keep it. In a poll by Montana State University Billings two years ago, 61 percent of Montanans said they opposed the law and only 27 percent supported it.
The most recent Gazette State Poll was conducted early last week by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Those who opposed the law in the most recent poll told the Gazette State Bureau in post-poll interviews that the law is too complex and too costly.
“Obamacare has got to go,” said Mary Davis, of Conner. “We have doctors who spend more time with their regulations than they do with patients. When the money goes for administration that is not necessary, that’s not right.”
Fredrick Jensen, of Scobey, said people he knows in business are holding off on making new hires because they’re concerned about how the new law may affect their costs.
“We have a lot of young entrepreneurs (in Scobey), and it’s really scary for them,” he said.
Supporters of the law said while it may not be the best or most comprehensive solution, they’re entirely in favor of extending health coverage to all citizens.
“I’m sure there are some serious kinks in it, but something absolutely needs to be done,” said Julie Buckley, of Butte. “It’s a crying shame that in the richest and most wonderful country in the world, there are people who do not have health insurance.”
Donna Mitchell, of Polson, said she has health insurance and the law won’t really affect her, but “I like to have the people in this country taken care of.”
“If I’ve got (health coverage), everybody should have it,” she said. “I’m a Christian. If you read Jesus’ word, it’s all about helping others. If we call ourselves Christians in this country, we ought to behave like Christians.”
The poll showed a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans, with 85 percent of Democrats favoring the law and 89 percent of Republicans opposing it. Those calling themselves independents, however, were 2-to-1 against it.
Women who were polled were evenly split on the law, with 47 percent each in favor and opposed, while men opposed the ACA by a 59-33 margin.