Poll identifies fears over health reform

WASHINGTON — As the Senate struggles to meet a self-imposed year-end deadline to complete work on health-care legislation, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the public generally fearful that a revamped system would bring higher costs while worsening the quality of their care.

A bare majority of Americans still believe that government action is needed to control runaway health care costs and expand coverage to the roughly 46 million people without insurance. But public enthusiasm for the proposed health reforms under consideration appears muted, and there are signs that the political fight has hurt President Obama's general standing with the public.

One bright spot for the president in the poll is Afghanistan. His announcement on Dec. 1 that he was ordering an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to that country wins majority support. More than half of all Americans, 52 percent, approve of how he is handling the situation there, up from 45 percent before the speech.

The survey underscores the political risks for Obama and the Democrats as they push to enact health care legislation. Democrats believe that passage of the bill will give them a political boost, despite the fractious debate surrounding the legislative struggle. But they are moving ahead in the face of a sharply divided country.

Obama's domestic battles have taken their toll, as his approval ratings on key issues have sunk to new lows. On health care, 53 percent disapprove of his performance, a high. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, also a high-mark in Post-ABC polling. Same on the deficit, where 56 percent now disapprove of his stewardship. On the politically volatile issue of unemployment, 47 percent approve of the way Obama is dealing with the issue; 48 percent disapprove.

Following the twists and turns of the health care debate has proved dizzying for insiders and the public alike and has left many Americans concerned about the impact of proposed changes. More than half of those polled, 53 percent, see higher costs for themselves if the proposed changes go into effect than if the current system remains intact. About as many, 55 percent, say the nation's total costs would go up more sharply. Moreover, just 37 percent say the quality of their care would be better under a new system; 50 percent see it as better under the current set-up.