Fight the 40 Interview with Micah Roberts of Public Opinion Strategies
Survey Finds Public Believes 40% Tax Will Bring Bad Consequences
To get a better idea of public attitudes toward the 40% tax on health plans, the American Benefits Council earlier this year hired a polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies (POS), to survey what people know about the tax and how they respond to various facts and claims about it. The firm conducted a nationwide survey of 1,200 registered voters from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3, and also assembled focus groups on the topic. This month we spoke with Micah Roberts, a vice president of POS, about the survey’s findings.
Roberts said the poll results should be understood in terms of the “bad environment” nationally for the Affordable Care Act, and people’s relatively gloomy sense of their own position. “Things are not going in the right direction for most people in terms of where the country’s headed,” Roberts said. “People don’t really like the health reform law, they’re feeling pretty bad about Congress, and they don’t feel too great about their economic situation. The ‘right direction/wrong track’ trend line is now into the 70s for ‘wrong track,’ and it was only 63 when we did the survey – so we’re into a downward spiral in terms of public attitudes about the direction of the country.” The focus groups also showed “a general sense of being lost on everything that’s happening with health reform,” Roberts said. “People don’t understand how it works, why it’s happening, why their premiums are skyrocketing and why their options are being limited.”
Roberts said the survey showed a low awareness of the so-called Cadillac tax. “Just 30% of people were aware of the tax, and that was actually higher among Republicans and lower among Democrats and independents. So there’s an intensity factor around this issue, and it’s centered on the negative side,” he said. “We found that 48% of voters say they would support repeal, while just 20% say they support implementing the Cadillac tax, and 38% don’t know enough to have an opinion… It was a very high number for repeal, and 40% of those said they strongly support repeal, compared to only 8% who said they strongly support implementing the tax – that was a stunning 5-to-1 differential in intensity, favoring support for repeal.”
Fearing the Worst. The survey found that when people were presented with potential positive and negative consequences of the 40% tax, they tended to believe the worst. “We found that all the things that could be the worst outcomes – cost increases for them personally; fewer choices in the marketplace; fewer employers offering health care; more people going without health insurance – those are all among the most likely things people said would happen if the tax were implemented,” Roberts said. Conversely, they rated the more positive possible outcomes as being the least likely to happen. Roberts said 70% of respondents agreed with the statement, “The Cadillac tax should be repealed because it won’t bring in $70 billion as expected, employers will drop or reduce health benefits to avoid paying the tax, and proponents are actually wrong when they assume employers will raise workers’ taxable wages to make up for the reductions in their benefits.” And after hearing arguments for and against the 40% tax, a 2-to-1 ratio of respondents said they would be more likely to support re-electing their member of Congress if they voted to repeal the tax.
Roberts’ firm also tested how people responded to various messages about the tax. “The most effective messaging on the pro-repeal side is that the tax will force businesses to provide health plans with fewer benefits and higher deductibles. Seventy percent of people thought that was a convincing reason to repeal the tax,” Roberts said. “The second-most effective message for repeal was a statement that said, ‘175 million Americans get insurance through their jobs, and employers should not be penalized for offering health benefits they believe their employees deserve and want.’ That was a convincing reason for 76% of the people we surveyed. It speaks to the reality, which is that people who are gaining access through their employer to health care really don’t want to have that system undercut by the ACA.”
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