Alicia Ng, thirty-four, was listening to music and sipping coffee when I asked her what she knew about the debate. “To be honest, I don’t really know what’s going on,” she admitted. “You talk to medical students, business owners, and friends in public health. There are so many opinions back and forth. You pick up the Daily News and the New York Post, they are totally against it; the Times is for it.” Ng, a freelance journalist, has no insurance and is applying for Medicaid. She worked in France for awhile and said health care was “so easy there.” Here, insurance companies “don’t cover so many things like mental health,” she said, “so I just said ‘forget it.’” Ng had a vague idea that she might get some insurance under the proposed health plans, but to really understand how the plans affect you, she explained, you “have to know the past.” In other words, people have to know the history, the context, and how things worked before to get the gist of how reform will affect them now.

Jamie Scott, a recently unemployed copy writer, said she had worked for Big PhRMA for the last twelve years writing drug sales pitches for doctors. “I try to follow the debate, but it’s like herding cats.” Scott, who is two and a half years away from Medicare eligibility, doesn’t know how the plans might affect her. “I do know there’s so much money being spent in Washington to make sure it doesn’t affect profit margins. I don’t see how they could come up with a meaningful bill,” she said.

“I absolutely believe in Medicare for all,” said Scott. “We’re the wealthiest country on the planet. There’s no reason health care should not be available and affordable for everybody.” In the meantime, she may face unaffordable premiums when money from the stimulus package that is paying 35 percent of her COBRA premiums runs out.

Some Starbucks customers refused to chat, and frankly seemed put out when I asked. Too touchy a subject, perhaps? Ah, the perils of taking a poll, even if it’s an informal one.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.