Study: Public support for government health care rising in Pa.

In early March, just as the coronavirus started to rattle households and workplaces statewide, Muhlenberg College conducted its annual public health survey, which showed that Pennsylvanians increasingly support government’s involvement in health care, according to an overview of the report obtained this week by the Central Penn Business Jounral.

The annual survey usually is done at this time of year, meaning that the timing was coincidental to the escalating crisis, said Christopher P. Borick, professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. But the survey showed that Pennsylvanians increasingly think the federal government is responsible for ensuring Americans have healthcare coverage — nearly 6 in 10 Pennsylvanians or 59 percent of those polled.

“This is an increase of 5% since 2019, when 54% of Pennsylvanians maintained this view,” the report said.

The 2020 survey included other healthcare topics, such as opinions on heroin addiction, immunizations and marijuana legalization. But the timing allowed surveyors to ask some questions about the outbreak and how the federal government had handled it up until the survey ended on March 16, the day before widespread closures of many businesses and government agencies statewide. In a previously released report on those questions, 36 percent of the respondents said they were “very concerned” about the spread of the virus and 38 percent said they were “concerned,” while 15 percent said they were “not very concerned” and 10 percent said they were “not concerned at all.”

And 48 percent of the responders said that federal officials were doing “enough” to contain the spread, while 40 percent responded “not enough.”

Borick said Monday that the long-term ramifications of the virus and the government response are too early to tell. People nationwide will be gauging how well the crisis is handled on both the state and federal levels, he said, adding that those reactions could reflect future policies. Yet, he said, the March survey supported trends showing an interest in more government involvement in healthcare, although only 48 percent said they support a “Medicare for all” plan and 40% oppose a nationalized system.

“While divided on ‘Medicare for all,’ 3 out of 4 Pennsylvanians support a ‘public option’ in which the federal government would allow individuals to purchase Medicare or keep their private insurance,” according to the report on the survey of 420 adults from March 2 to March 16.

The survey also showed that 9% of the respondents support the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to the point where they would “let it stand.” And 46 percent responded “change it so it does more,” while 29% answered “repeal it completely.”

Here are some of the other results from the survey, which is done as a partnership between the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the Muhlenberg College Public Health Program.

• About 6 out of 10 adult Pennsylvanians gave health care in Pennsylvania a positive rating (“excellent” 17% and “good” 42%), but 16% rated health care in the state as “poor,” marking an 11 point jump from 2018 when only 5% of state residents offered this rating.
• Support for legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania rose to its highest level since 2013, with 56% of adults now supporting legalization, compared to a record low of 26% opposing this change of policy.
• 4 out of 5 of Commonwealth residents maintain that heroin abuse is a “very serious problem.” But the survey showed a strong division on the use of supervised injection sites for individuals, with 45% supporting this option and 45% opposed.
• A record number of Pennsylvanians (57%) “strongly disagree” with the claim that childhood immunizations increase the likelihood of a child becoming autistic, marking a 22-point gain since 2013, when 35% of adult Pennsylvanians strongly disagreed with this claim.

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 5.5 percent at a “95% level of confidence,” according to the report.

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