Americans are gung ho for healthcare reform and they support the new president's efforts, even if they don't know the details of how it's all going to work out, according to a new poll by Harris Interactive (Rochester, New York) and syndicated health news service HealthDay (Norwalk, Connecticut).

"I was impressed with the percentage of Americans who were favorably inclined to get universal healthcare," HealthDay Editor-in-Chief Barry Hoffman told Medical Device Daily. "As a citizen, I wasn't sure what role healthcare now played. The economy has overwhelmed everything else, so I didn't know if people really wanted universal health. But it appears there's a favorable inclination that they want some form of universal healthcare."

Of those polled, most know that Obama is proposing to reform the healthcare system, but 79% said they know only a little bit about the possible reforms to be proposed. Fewer, 17%, professed that they know a lot about Obama's game plan.

"We saw that a majority of Americans were favorably inclined to some reform in healthcare, but there was a small percentage actually aware of some specifics of the plan," Hoffman said. "Overall, they said they needed more information."

He emphasized the fact that the poll revealed so many Americans have positive expectations.

Harris conducted the online survey of a national cross-section of 2,491 adults age 18 and older in late January. Hoffman said it's the first in what will be a series to keep close tabs on American's attitudes over time. The next poll will come in early March.

Hoffman said he was most surprised to learn that Americans are keen to have the government negotiate with drug companies to get better deals on prescription medications. A majority, 78%, are in favor of the idea, 7% are opposed and 15% are unsure.

Another popular proposal is to require that all children be covered by insurance. Sixty-nine percent of adults, including majorities of all parties (87% Democrat, 53% Republican and 62% Independent) favor universal coverage for children.

As the poll delved into more specifics, the issue of a national health insurance exchange considered a partial step toward universal coverage was addressed and met with mostly positive responses. Sixty percent favored this model. It's based on a system currently in place in Massachusetts, whereby an exchange would offer a range of private insurance options as well as a new public plan that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable healthcare coverage.

"This concept (an exchange) is sometimes associated with socialized medicine, which is a phrase often used to attack healthcare reform in the U.S.," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll. "The fact that majorities of all parties support it shows a real desire for change in the American public."

In the past, the exchange wasn't considered appealing, particularly among Republicans. The poll revealed that attitudes on the right are morphing. Republicans (49%), Independents (56%) and three-fourths (73%) of Democrats now are reacting favorably to this reform idea.

Most participants (61%) say that reform would be good if the key benefit is to provide more people with adequate health insurance coverage, closely followed by making healthcare more cost-effective (54%) and then only 20% believe that reforms would be bad for the quality of medical care in America.

In general, the survey revealed that the more people know about the president's proposals, the more positive they are about reform in general and to specific ideas.

Cost to the individual is of great concern, particularly given the nation's current downward economic spiral.

"One thing is certain, these attitudes will surely change as reform proposals are presented, debated, supported and attacked," Taylor said.

People indicated that they are cautious about whether positive changes to healthcare in America would have a good impact on the overall economy. The question: "Even if you don't know the details of his plan, do you believe that President Obama's proposals for healthcare reforms, if implemented, would be good or bad for strengthening the economy?" was met with 42% who thought it would be good for the economy. Fifty-five percent of people who had lower incomes (less than $15,000) thought healthcare reform would have a positive impact on the economy while only 39% of people with high incomes (more than $75,000) agreed with the concept.

A big issue for many people is that most insurers will not provide coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions. But when asked if insurance plans should be required to accept all applicants for coverage, regardless of illness or disability, only 17% of survey participants said that they had seen, heard or read about this issue. More Republicans (30%) were familiar with the topic than Democrats (7%).

The next poll, Hoffman said, "Will look at what effect current economic conditions are having on realistic implementation of healthcare reform in the next year or so or even within Obama's first term."

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