Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poll shows registered voters in Ky. favor expanding Medicaid

By Molly Burchett and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

A statewide poll last month found that most registered voters in Kentucky, when presented with specific facts and options, generally favored expansion of Medicaid under federal health-care reform. Similar results were found in six other states surveyed by a bipartisan pair of pollsters working for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

"Respondents in the seven states polled were informed that federal funds are available to pay 100 percent of the costs to cover more uninsured people through Medicaid beginning in 2014, with the federal share gradually decreasing to 90 percent," the network said in a news release. "Respondents in each state were two to three times more likely to support accepting federal dollars to cover more people than they were to prefer turning down federal funds and leaving vulnerable populations uninsured." The poll asked:

Next I’d like to ask you about an issue being talked about by the governor and the state legislature. Under the new federal health care law, [number of] people in [state] who are uninsured right now could get health care coverage through Medicaid starting in 2014. The governor and state elected officials can choose to accept federal dollars that have been allocated to cover these people in [state], or to turn the money down and not cover these people. The federal dollars cover 100% of the costs in the first few years, and 90% of the costs after that.

The release said the result in Kentucky was 63 percent for expansion and 23 percent opposed. The results were not quite as strong, 60-30, when voters were presented with arguments from both sides of the debate:

Side A says we can cover more people in [state] and save taxpayer dollars that are currently spent on treating uninsured people in emergency rooms. Covering more people gives hard-working families the security of knowing they can get preventive care and see a doctor when they need to. The alternative is people showing up in the emergency room when they are sicker. By accepting the money, we could cover more people and save taxpayer dollars.

Side B says Kentucky will eventually have to pay 10% of the costs of covering these people, and even more if the federal government fails to follow through on its promises. We cannot afford to spend even more on health care coverage, which is already a big part of the state budget. We have too many other priorities in the state that need attention, like education and roads. By turning down the money, we could avoid future increases in state health care spending.

Which side do you agree with more?

The results in other states were Florida, 62-28; Iowa, 55-34; Michigan, 62-29; New Jersey, 65-29; New Mexico, 61-29; and Texas, 55-35. The Kentucky poll found that 49 percent of registered voters in Kentucky have close friends or family members who are uninsured, and 43 percent of voters who are not currently receiving coverage through Medicaid say they or someone close to them has been covered by it.

The poll did not mention the key standard for expansion, that a state must cover people in households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Kentucky now covers people with incomes below approximately 70 percent of poverty, and the federal government pays a little more than 70 percent of the cost. It would pay all the cost of expansion in 2014-16, then the state would have to start paying an increasing share, reaching 10 percent by 2020. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants to expand Medicaid if the state can afford it.

The telephone poll surveyed 812 registered voters, giving it an error margin of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points. It was conducted by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, and GS Strategy Group, a Republican firm, between Dec. 13 and 22. For more details, click here.

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