November 3 2009
What Women Want on Health Care
Heather R. Higgins
Women are seen as a key constituency of Democrats, particularly on issues like health care. But current congressional proposals not only concern women, they may actually drive women away from the party.
The Independent Women's Forum (IWF) commissioned a survey to better understand women's health-care concerns. We asked extensive questions of 800 registered voters, deliberately taking a broad sample to be representative geographically, demographically, politically and philosophically. Forty percent of respondents self-identified as Democrats, 22% as independents, and only 32% as Republicans (the rest didn't offer a party affiliation); of the 81% who voted in the last election, 58% voted for Barack Obama. That makes the results all the more fascinating.
One key finding is that most women like their own care. Three out of four (74%) rate their own health care as good or excellent, and 77% think the quality of the care they receive is equal to or better than what others receive. Particularly surprising, given the nefarious reputation of insurers, was that two-thirds (66%) thought their insurance was good or excellent, and 73% thought that they had appropriate or even high quality insurance. (No insurer paid for the poll or contributes to IWF.)
Women, it turns out, see health-care reform as being for someone other than themselves. Three out of four women either want their own health care modified only slightly (40%) or think it's better left as it is (35%); 64% would rather have private insurance than a government-run plan.
Part of this is driven by the expectation that government-run health care will create new problems. Nearly half of the women in IWF's survey (46%) worry that government-run health care will result in more doctors leaving medicine. More than half (51%) think it will cause a decline in the quality of health care. Half think their family will end up paying more for health care, and 81% expect that it will lead to increases in the taxes they have to pay. Across the spectrum 76% of respondents felt that a tax penalty for not purchasing insurance was unfair.
There's also concern about cost. Nearly three in five (57%) don't support passage of a health-care reform bill if it will mean significantly increasing the federal deficit for future generations.
Women also oppose the rush: Only 16% see health care as the top issue, though 53% put it in their top three. But two thirds (67%) don't want something poorly crafted passed, saying it's more important to get it right than to do it fast. More than half (56%) believe Congress should approve legislation only if it has bipartisan support.
The intensity difference should concern politicians. When asked if they would support an individual mandate, 61% did not, and 42% held that belief strongly. Compare that to 28% supporting an individual mandate, with only 11% supporting it strongly.
And when asked if they would be more or less likely to support a congressional candidate if the knew that he or she supported moving people from their private health-care plans to government-run care, two out of three (67%) said it would either probably (26%) or definitely (41%) make them less likely to support the politician.
This poll wrapped up just as Mr. Obama declared a swine flu emergency and before Americans became angry about the shortage of the swine flu vaccine. The swine flu vaccine is itself a harbinger of government-run health care, and Internet message-boards are filled with frustrated moms.
One can only speculate how the administration's handling of the swine flu would have affected the outcome of our survey if it had been conducted later.
But it is clear that women value their right to spend their own money to purchase the private insurance they want, and object to penalizing those who choose not to participate in whatever a distant bureaucrat deems acceptable. They do not buy into the rush, and they want changes to be cost effective and judicious. Politicians can pay attention, or relive 1994 when a Democratic drive for health-care reform fueled a Republican takeover of Congress.
Ms. Higgins is chairman of the Independent Women's Forum. The poll can be viewed at www.iwf.org.