The polls continue to say that roughly half of Americans don’t support health reform. A Zogby poll finds that about 51 percent of Americans oppose the Democratic version of health reform; a Quinnipiac University poll reports that 54 percent are unsupportive of Obama’s plan; a Public Policy Polling survey puts the number of those who oppose at 50 percent.
So what does a sample of New Yorkers in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan think of health care reform and what’s happened to it? Interviews over the weekend in our non-scientific poll show that people are about as split as the scientific polls show. Some have strong opinions; others have tuned out; and still others say they are unaffected by the all the back-and-forth between the Dems and the Republicans. A few people I interviewed didn’t know about the big health care pow-wow on Thursday, even though that topic has consumed stakeholders, interest groups, Internet listservs, and health care reporters for weeks.
“I am not aware of the summit,” said thirty-eight-year-old Liza, who was having her nails done. But then, she had not been very engaged with the debate in the first place. “Personally I don’t think I will be affected by it,” she said. Liza has insurance from her employer, but she declined to say where she works. “There’s nothing I’ve heard that makes me think I would be.” Hmmm, I thought. Apparently the messages from the president and the pols these many months had not filtered down to her.
Seth, who also wouldn’t give his last name, had the same reaction. Seth is twenty-seven and said he is the CEO of a software firm a few blocks away. He told me there were nineteen hours in the day when he wasn’t sleeping and he had to devote that time to things higher on his priority list—running his business, keeping up with technology, and spending time with his wife. “I don’t need to have an opinion on everything,” he said. He did admit that he knew very little about the reform debate. At one point, he said Obama was trying democratize health care more like in Canada or France. I wondered if he meant: make it more like socialized systems.
A few minutes later, Seth said that the president was trying to privatize health care, making it so that everyone gets it—but that that would make the costs go up “substantially” because what you pay has to cover more people. “I can only imagine how much,” he said, and then told me about the insurance coverage for his workers. The premiums his company pays are going up 30 percent March 1. We have the perfect demographic, he explained: Most employees are between 28 and 35 and aren’t supposed to get sick. Policy wonks say the young, healthy invincibles will keep everyone’s costs down. Still, Seth said, his workers have had health problems. One employee got cancer; others had babies. For every dollar his company paid in premiums, the insurance broker said $1.03 was paid out for medical expenses.
I stopped in at Flannery’s Bar to see if some of the patrons would chat. A few did. Leonardo Mojica works as a computer analyst at New York University and started our conversation by saying, “It’s not going to affect me. It might when I get to Medicare or Medicaid.” That won’t be for awhile, since he is just fifty-five. He has had insurance from NYU for twenty years.
Mojica knew about the issues. “It was a big mistake to take the public option out of the whole package,” he told me. He said he was an independent but usually votes for Dems. (“Republicans, never!”) Yet he was not happy with the Democrats. “Democrats are usually chicken,” he explained. He supported Obama, but he was not happy with the president’s health care leadership. “He wanted to placate Republicans too much. He’s supposed to fight. One of the biggest disappointments is how he has been kow-towing to the please the Republicans. They will never cooperate with him.” Mojica said that if they pass anything, it will be “watered down.” “I don’t see any gains.”
Phil McQuade was on his lunch break. He works for Verizon as a central office technician and has health coverage. The minute I bring up health reform, he says, “I don’t agree with it. There’s too much pork involved such as the Nebraska deal. I think he’s buying votes.” McQuade, who came from Ireland when he was three years old in 1959, said that the government shouldn’t be involved in health care “just like they shouldn’t be involved with cars.”