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Poll: Health Reform, Costs Of Care Concern Kansans

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NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
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A new poll from NPR, Harvard University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explores Americans’ experiences with the health care system in the two years since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented.

Kansas was one of seven states singled out for closer scrutiny. And while much of what Sunflower State residents said followed national trends, there were some notable exceptions.

Of all the states surveyed, Kansas is where the Affordable Care Act is the least popular. Robert Blendon of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health was primarily in charge of conducting the poll. He said of Kansans surveyed, 26 percent thought things improved as a result of the ACA and 13 percent thought their own lives were helped.

“But in terms of the overall figures, people were much more negative about the impact on Kansas as a whole and about individuals,” Blendon said.

More than a third of Kansans surveyed — 39 percent — thought the health care law has been detrimental to the state. That compares with 27 percent nationwide. Blendon sees two main factors behind these numbers for Kansans.

There is “a real concern, greater than the other states, about the cost of health care for them and the state,” he said. “And the other is this sense of concern that many Republicans have that the law wasn’t the right thing to do. The two together is why I think Kansas stands out as being more critical of the ACA than other states.”

The Kansans with the most negative views about the health care law tend to be older than 65, live in rural areas and identify as Republican. They also say their health care costs are unreasonable and they have experienced serious financial problems as a result.

The extend of their worry about costs surprised Blendon.

“Kansans are much more concerned about rising health care costs than people in other states,” he said. “They think they’re going up. They’re more concerned about the future.”

The finding that a lot of Kansans are not happy with the Affordable Care Act comes as no surprise to Mike Walker, assistant director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. The institute has been doing its own polling of Kansans for seven years.

“We did see in our own data that Kansans were not favorable toward ACA overall,” he said. “There was a large portion that were favorable, but the majority of folks were not.”

Walker said Kansans almost always vote Republican. What’s more, he said, President Barack Obama is not popular in Kansas, and that carries over to his signature health care law, informally referred to as Obamacare.

“A lot of Kansans just seem to dislike Obama, more specifically,” he said. “So I think those two things sort of lay a foundation for just opposing something that a Democratic president might come up with, and especially Obama.”

Walker said while it’s clear that Kansans are concerned about health care costs, it’s not clear whether those cost increases are real and actually caused by Obamacare.

“My experience tells me that people that have experienced their cost going up, or perceive that their costs are going up, are more likely to be vocal about the issue and complain about the ACA,” he said. “Folks that aren’t impacted by it aren’t going to say anything about it.”

If costs are increasing significantly, Walker said, it might be because people have more comprehensive coverage now thanks to the ACA — something they may not appreciate until they get sick or injured. Walker said the health reform law is complicated, and it’s understandable that people might be confused about it, especially with persistent attacks on Obamacare from the state’s political leaders.

“But I kind of think that people don’t want to understand these issues, because it runs like a brick wall against their support for the Republican Party and their opposition to Obama in general,” he said.

Walker said the real test will be to see how Kansans’ attitudes toward the ACA evolve over time as they have more experience with the health reform law and the health care system.

Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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