Many Americans support Medicare for all, but it's not universal

Majority supports other expansion plans

By TAMI LUHBY, CNN
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(CNN) - Americans are as divided as congressional Democrats about how to expand health care coverage to more people.

Coming off their midterm election romp, progressive Democrats feel they have a mandate to push for a universal "Medicare-for-all" plan. But some of their Democratic peers support less drastic changes to the nation's health care system.

A national Medicare-for-all plan received the lowest favorability score in Kaiser Family Foundation's January tracking poll, released Wednesday. Some 56% of respondents said they favor Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan.

But roughly three-quarters of Americans prefer other proposals to expand Medicare or Medicaid, Kaiser found. Some 77% favor allowing people age 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare, while 75% would allow people who don't have job-based insurance to buy into Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income Americans.

Some 74% favor creating a national health insurance program similar to Medicare, but allowing people to keep the coverage they currently have, according to Kaiser.

A majority of Democrats and independents favor all four of these options, but only buying into Medicare or Medicaid garners the support of about two-thirds of Republicans. Less than a quarter of Republicans favor Medicare-for-all and 47% support a national plan that would allow people to keep their coverage.

Support for a national Medicare-for-all plan swings wildly after folks hear about the potential effects. It spikes when respondents are told that it would guarantee health insurance as a right or eliminate premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

But favorability slumps when they are told it would eliminate private health insurance, raise taxes or threaten the current Medicare program. And it tanks when told it would lead to delays in receiving care.

Many people don't think Medicare-for-all would have an impact on them.

Not surprisingly, the uninsured age 18 to 64 are most likely to say they'd be better off, at 43%. But 37% of this group don't think it would have much of an effect, while 19% thought it would leave them worse off.

Senior citizens, however, are not buying the Republican argument that Medicare-for-all would hurt the existing Medicare program. Only a quarter of Kaiser respondents 65 and older thought they'd be worse off if a national plan were implemented.

Despite all the hype surrounding Medicare-for-all, Americans want lawmakers to focus on other health care issues.

First up is making sure that the Affordable Care Act's coverage protections for those with pre-existing conditions remain. Close behind is lowering prescription drug costs.

Just over 1 in 10 respondents want lawmakers to implement Medicare-for-all, though the same share want to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Protecting people from surprise medical bills ranks last.

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