Public option losing public support?

PUBLIC OPTION LOSING PUBLIC SUPPORT?…. As recently as June, the public support for a public option as part of health care reform seemed very strong. An NYT poll found 72% of Americans — including 50% of Republicans — favoring such a plan. An NBC/WSJ poll found 76% of Americans believing that it’s important to “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.”

Over the last two months, right-wing attacks have changed the landscape considerably. A new NBC poll shows support for a public option falling behind opposition for the first time.

In the poll, 43 percent say they favor a public option, versus 47 percent who oppose it. That’s a shift from last month’s NBC/Journal poll, when 46 percent said they backed it and 44 percent were opposed.

There is, however, a catch — NBC changed the wording of the question. Respondents were asked, “Would you favor or oppose creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies?” Opponents outnumbered supporters.

In June, the same poll asked, “In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance — extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?” In this case, 76% thought it was important to give people a choice.

The wording, then, makes all the difference. A Quinnipiac poll from two weeks ago asked, “Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?” A 62% majority supported the public option. An NYT poll from late July asked, “Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?” A 66% majority approved.

It’s probably safe to assume the conservative attacks on reform have had an effect, and support for a public option has fallen in recent months. But I suspect we’ll hear a lot of talk today about the NBC poll, with most of the commentary concluding that the public has soured on the idea. It’s not quite that simple.