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New KFF polling on Medicare-for-all versus a public option

September 12, 2019

Topics: Quote of the Day

By Ashley Kirzinger, Audrey Kearney, and Mollyann Brodie
Kaiser Family Foundation, September 12, 2019

Majorities of Democrats and Independents favor Medicare-for-all and public option, most Republicans oppose either proposal

Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare-for-all?

51% – Strongly favor
26% – Somewhat favor
11% – Somewhat oppose
10% – Strongly oppose

27% – Strongly favor
26% – Somewhat favor
14% – Somewhat oppose
31% – Strongly oppose

11% – Strongly favor
8% – Somewhat favor
10% – Somewhat oppose
69% – Strongly oppose

Do you favor or oppose having a government-administered health plan, sometimes called a public option?

57% – Strongly favor
30% – Somewhat favor
5% – Somewhat oppose
5% – Strongly oppose

36% – Strongly favor
36% – Somewhat favor
8% – Somewhat oppose
17% – Strongly oppose

15% – Strongly favor
26% – Somewhat favor
14% – Somewhat oppose
39% – Strongly oppose

Public divided on whether Medicare-for-all and public option are similar or different plans

Do you think a national Medicare-for-all plan and a public option government-administered health plan are…?

10% – Very similar
37% – Somewhat similar
29% – Somewhat different
15% – Very different
10% – Don’t know/Refused

Half say they have heard some about Medicare-for-all but large shares say they haven’t heard much about either Medicare-for-all or a public option

How much, if anything, have you heard about a national Medicare-for-all plan?

25% – A lot
26% – Some
26% – A little
22% – Nothing at all
1% – Don’t know/Refused

How much, if anything, have you heard about a government-administered health plan, sometimes called a public option?

14% – A lot
22% – Some
26% – A little
38% – Nothing at all
1% – Don’t know/Refused



By Don McCanne, M.D.

According to this new poll, Democrats support Medicare-for-all (“a national health plan”), Independents are split, and Republicans are opposed. Also, Democrats and Independents both support a public option (“a government-administered health plan”), and Republicans are split. However, the public is confused as to whether Medicare-for-all and a public option are similar or different, and half have not heard much about Medicare-for-all and even more have not heard much about a public option.

It seems as if individuals do have an opinion on Medicare-for-all and on a public option even though many are confused as to what they are. The fact that the pollsters referred to one as “a national health plan” and the other as “a government-administered health plan” likely leaves many of those polled with little understanding of the refinements distinguishing the two models.

Features that people might be interested in include the following:

  • Everyone is automatically covered for life
  • Affordability is assured through equitable taxes based on ability to pay
  • Financial barriers such as high deductibles are eliminated
  • Choices of physicians and hospitals are assured through elimination of insurer networks
  • Hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative waste is recovered

Of course, these are features of the single payer model of Medicare for all and none would apply by merely adding a public option to our fragmented financing system of a multitude of public and private insurance programs.

When will the pollsters finally ask the following questions?

  • Should everyone be covered or just some of us?
  • Should insurance be automatic forever or should it depend on life circumstances?
  • Should payments into the system be made affordable based on income, or should many be left out because they can’t afford the premiums?
  • Should high deductibles and surprise medical bills be used to deprive individuals of health care that they should have?
  • Should patients have choices of their physicians and hospitals or shall we continue to allow private insurers to restrict choices to their networks?
  • Should we continue to tolerate wasting about half a trillion dollars in administrative excesses, or should we redirect those funds that so that we can pay for care for those currently uninsured or underinsured?

In other words, do we want a health care system that we can afford that takes care of all of us, or do we want to merely add a public option and a couple of tweaks to ACA that leaves our overpriced, highly dysfunctional system in place? People really need to understand the differences between Medicare-for-all (single payer version) and a public option. Let’s see that they do.

Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.

About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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