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Most Want Some Parts of Obamacare to Stay, Survey Finds

By Ashley Hayes
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Dec. 15, 2016 -- Despite the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, a new WebMD/Medscape survey finds broad support for keeping parts of the law intact -- even among those who say they want it repealed.

The survey's findings come as leaders in the Republican-controlled Congress make plans to repeal the law, also known as Obamacare, when President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.

The survey found virtually no support for keeping the law as is. But nearly 4 in 5 WebMD readers and doctors on Medscape, WebMD's site for health care professionals, want at least some aspects of it preserved, whether as part of the current law or in a new one.

The survey was conducted in late November and includes responses from 835 WebMD readers and 687 doctors on Medscape. Of those:

  • Nearly half (49%) of WebMD readers and 43% of doctors believe the law should be kept, but improvements should be made.
  • 31% of readers and 36% of doctors believe the law should be repealed, but some aspects of it should be used in a replacement law.
  • 19% of readers and 18% of doctors believe the law should be repealed and replaced with a new one.
  • Only 2% of WebMD readers and 3% of doctors believe Obamacare should be kept as is.

The finding is consistent with other recent polls that have found less enthusiasm for a total repeal of the law. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released on Dec. 1 found that 1 in 4 Americans wanted a full repeal. It also noted that the number of Republicans who want the law repealed had dropped from 69% to 52%. A HealthDay/Harris poll found that 28% of Americans supported a full repeal.

"I think we're in a different moment," says Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

"In the past, when people might have been asked if they were for or against the ACA, it was almost a free pass; with President Obama in the White House, there was no way it was going away. Now, where there's a very real threat it will be repealed, people are saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. What are we losing in the process?' "

The WebMD/Medscape survey also found broad support for specific aspects of Obamacare that readers and doctors say should be required of all health care plans. They include:

  • Coverage of mental health services: 95% of WebMD readers, 91% of doctors
  • Coverage of preventive services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, with no co-payment: 92% of consumers, 78% of doctors
  • Women's health coverage, such as birth control and maternity benefits: 87% of consumers, 80% of doctors
  • Coverage for young adults up to age 26 under a parent's plan: 82% of WebMD readers, 88% of doctors
  • No lifetime maximum benefits on health insurance coverage: 82% of consumers, 82% of doctors

Lisa Zamosky, a health care journalist and author of "Healthcare, Insurance, and You," noted the high level of support for women's health coverage. Zamosky also writes for WebMD.

"In the law's earlier days, many complaints were lodged about the requirement to buy insurance that covered services people wouldn't themselves use and that drive up the cost of premiums," she says. "Maternity was almost always at the top of the list of benefits people resented paying for. These results seem to mark somewhat of a reversal."

Asked whether the federal government should provide an option allowing people to purchase government-administered health coverage, also known as a "public option," 77% of both WebMD readers and doctors say yes.

Corlette said she was surprised by the high number of doctors supporting the public option. In Washington, D.C., where she is located, she says the doctors' community has been "pretty strongly opposed" to it.

Even among the WebMD readers who say they support a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, an overwhelming majority still support some of its provisions:

  • 89% believe all health care plans should provide coverage of mental health services.
  • 85% believe all health plans should cover preventive services with no co-payment.
  • 77% believe health plans should have no lifetime maximum benefits on coverage.
  • 76% believe all health plans should provide women's health coverage.

In addition, 66% of those supporting a repeal say they believe it's important to have affordable health care coverage for everyone, and 63% support a "public option."

While polls have always shown high opposition to Obamacare, that opposition came from both sides of the political spectrum, Corlette says. "A significant proportion of people who say they don't like the ACA have actually felt that it didn't go far enough in its reforms."

If Obamacare is fully repealed, WebMD readers and doctors paint a different picture of what they believe will happen.

Among consumers:

  • 45% say they believe their costs will stay the same.
  • 58% believe their benefits will remain the same.

Among doctors:

  • 47% believe their patients' costs will increase.
  • 57% believe their patients' benefits will decrease.

"There are so many unknowns at this point about how things will play out," Zamosky says. "But these results could suggest that many people will be in for a surprise by the impact of repeal on their costs and the benefits they get for their money."

Asked about their biggest health care priority for the next president and Congress, consumers and doctors were split.

Consumers listed their priorities as:

  • Universal health care coverage (34%)
  • Cuts in health care premiums (34%)
  • Lower drug prices (24%)

Doctors, however, had a different top priority:

  • Cuts in health care premiums (41%)
  • Universal health care coverage (31%)
  • Lower drug prices (21%)

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SOURCES: WebMD/Medscape ACA Repeal or Reform Survey: WebMD Survey: Nov. 18-Nov. 29, 2016; Medscape survey Nov. 21-Dec. 1, 2016. Lisa Zamosky, health care journalist and author. Sabrina Corlette, research professor, Center on Health Insurance Reforms, Health Policy Institute, Georgetown University. Kaiser Family Foundation.HealthDay/Harris poll.

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