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Poll Shows Many Oregonians Would Support Hefty Tax To Fund Universal Health Care

August 17, 2019

A new poll indicates there is broad support in Oregon for universal health care, with many residents in favor of funding it with a tax.

Most people surveyed said they had health insurance and rated their coverage as “satisfactory” or better. Although a large majority -- 76 percent -- said the cost of their health care was “reasonable” or “manageable,” 81 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” support swapping premiums, copays and deductibles for a tax-based system.

That care would not be cheap. The survey said that state residents and businesses now spend about $16 billion a year on health care. The cost of universal coverage would be two to three times what people pay for state taxes but would still be less than what a typical household pays for premiums, copays and deductibles, it said. Nevertheless, 62 percent said they’d be inclined to pay that amount.

The results surprised Warren George, a retired Corvallis management consultant who commissioned the survey.

“I thought when I started talking about things like $16 billion or two to three times their income tax that support would be relatively low,” George said. “So part of my motive was to look at alternatives.”

A registered Republican, George said he’s been frustrated by a reluctance among many politicians who support universal care to discuss how much it would cost.

“I think that creates an unfortunate situation,” George said. “The things that you don’t talk about telegraph that (they are) impossible.”

So he spent tens of thousands of dollars of his own money, with help from a Corvallis furniture maker, Ron Loe, to commission the survey. It was conducted by a Seattle-based polling company, Elway Research, Inc., between July 17 to 21. The company only surveyed 402 registered voters in Oregon, but George said that sample is the equivalent of polling 30,000 people nationwide. 

“That is a valid sample size for the state of Oregon,” George said. “When you’re looking for general receptivity, a smaller poll is very appropriate.”

The survey has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Ashley Kirzinger, a polling expert at Kaiser Family Foundation, said the results were consistent with national surveys on a universal health plan.

“It can wax or wane depending on what kind of information they’re given on the issue.”

She said support for universal coverage largely comes from liberals. “We’ve been polling on a single-payer health insurance system for a while, and we’ve never really found strong Republican support,” Kirzinger said.

In the Oregon poll, 35 percent of those surveyed were Democrats, 25 percent were Republicans and 21 percent said they were non-affiliated.

One thing that matters for most is language. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll published in July showed that a majority -- 63 percent -- had a positive view of “universal health care” and “Medicare-for-all.” Only 49 percent considered a single-payer health insurance system to be positive and even fewer liked the term “socialized medicine.” 

As in Oregon, the national poll showed strong support for expanding health care: 89 percent said universal coverage was an important feature of a national health plan while 79 percent favored simplifying coverage. That compared with 56 percent who said it was important to eliminate monthly premiums.

The biggest issue for a large majority is cost.

“There is a system in place,” Kirzinger said, “so in order to get wide acceptance around a major change to the health care system, politicians are going to have to show how it would reduce people’s health care costs.”

In the Oregon poll, 81 percent said cost was a “major problem.” Other findings include:

  • 48 percent rated the health care system as “excellent” compared with 47 percent who said it was “unsatisfactory”
  • 49 percent said universal care was “desirable” and “achievable” while 26 percent said it was “desirable” but not “achievable”
  • 23 percent blamed drug companies for high costs and 20 percent cited insurance companies
  • 40 percent said “system resistance” was preventing the United States from having universal coverage
  • 48 percent said they would “definitely” support a tax to replace premiums, copays and deductibles and 33 percent said they would probably be willing to pay such a tax
  • 55 percent said there is enough money in the system to cover everyone
  • 22 percent said they would “definitely” support a health care tax that was two to three times as much as they pay in state taxes and 41 percent said they would “probably” support it.

George timed the poll to come out after the legislative session with the hope that it would kickstart moves towards a universal health care system. Senate Bill 770, which squeaked through in the final days of the session, authorizes a task force to hold statewide hearings on universal health care. The commission will meet Nov. 1 but it won’t make its final recommendation to the Legislature until 2021.

Nevertheless, Dr. Samuel Metz, a retired anesthesiologist and member of Oregon Physicians for a National Health Program, said the poll shows lawmakers need to be talking about universal care.

“No one can hide behind the statement ‘my constituents won’t let me talk about taxes’ because this poll says they will talk about takes if you’re also talking about better health care,” Metz said. “Now the burden is for every legislator and every elected official to be thinking about the health plan they’re going to advocate.”

Oregon can’t change the system alone. 

“Anything that happens isn’t going to happen on the state level,” Kirzinger said.

The foundation has not polled the public on the subject since the Democratic presidential candidates debated their plans for health care reform. One idea that often polls well, Kirzinger said, is giving people a choice. Among the top candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris both favor giving the public a choice.

But George thinks there is unlikely to be movement on the issue until it’s no longer politicized. A moderate Republican, he supports universal coverage that saves money but would maintain a high quality of care. 

“Our health care situation is becoming dire primarily because of cost,” George said, adding that it’s time to switch the debate from health care as a human right to what needs to be done to ensure that everyone is covered.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].