National polls and opinion surveys consistently show that health care is an important issue for voters. In a June 2003 survey by Harris Interactive, health care ranked third after economy/jobs and war/defense as an issue needing government action. A Gallup poll in September 2003 found that 85 percent of respondents considered presidential candidates’ positions on health care issues to be either extremely important or very important in influencing their votes.
This is a crucial period for assessing the importance of various health care issues in the context of the 2004 election. The Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses will begin in three months, and the Democratic Party candidate may be decided in less than four months. The Republican nomination belongs to President George W. Bush, and the White House has been involved to varying degrees in every major health policy issue currently being debated by the Democratic candidates, including Medicare drug benefits, containing health costs and increasing access to care.
For which voters will health care be a make-or-break issue? Which health policy issues take precedence for which groups of Americans? What happens to voter concern about health care if Congress enacts Medicare drug legislation? What happens if Congress fails to pass a Medicare drug bill? How significant is the issue of securing health coverage for the 43.6 million uninsured? How is the issue of covering the uninsured connected (if at all) to the overall concern about rising health costs already?
To help address these and related questions, the Alliance for Health Reform sponsored an October 20, 2003 briefing for reporters with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Panelists were: Jack Meyer of the Economic and Social Research Institute, who provided an overview of how President Bush and the Democratic presidential candidates are addressing various health issues, including the uninsured; Celinda Lake, a pollster for Democrats who had surveyed New Hampshire residents about the importance of health care in the 2004 presidential primary; and Bill McInturff, pollster for Republicans, who has included health questions in dozens of national surveys. Ed Howard of the Alliance moderated the discussion.