Poll shows only modest support for repeal

Only about one in three Georgia voters want lawmakers to repeal health care reform entirely, despite strong opposition to the new law among the state’s political leadership.

While 31 percent want the law repealed, an additional 29 percent want lawmakers to throw out parts of the Affordable Care Act – possibly targeting the health reform requirement that individuals purchase health insurance.

The telephone poll of 450 registered Georgia voters also found 14 percent want lawmakers to expand the reform law and 18 percent want to preserve it as written.

The poll also showed strong sentiment to raise the state tax on cigarettes – much deeper support than for a proposal to place a state sales tax on food.

The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, a panel created by the General Assembly,  issued a report in January that recommended increasing the tobacco tax and eliminating the sales-tax exemption on food, among other proposals. The council’s recommendations are now being considered by state lawmakers.

The poll, conducted Jan. 27 to Feb. 5 by the Schapiro Group , was commissioned by the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, a statewide, private independent foundation.

Opposition to health reform split along party lines, with 54 percent of Republicans backing full repeal, versus 11 percent of Democrats. Among independents, 32 percent want to repeal health care reform.

Ken Thorpe, an Emory University health policy expert, said he was surprised that the sentiment for repeal wasn’t stronger, given the political climate against the White House-backed law in Georgia.

Two-thirds of respondents, Thorpe said, want ‘’to either fix some of it, expand it or leave it alone.’’

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens and Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, all Republicans, say they strongly oppose the health reform law, as do many conservatives in the General Assembly.

The political leaders support the lawsuit Georgia has pursued, along with more than 20 other states, that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act, passed a year ago by Congress.

Republican leaders, if given these poll results, would probably be most concerned with their own party members’ views on health reform, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist. Most GOP elected officials would be less worried about a Democrat defeating them than about a challenge from their right, such as from a Tea Party candidate, Bullock said.

He noted that the poll showed a significant split on health reform along racial lines. Among whites, 43 percent favored full repeal, versus just 13 percent of blacks. A majority of blacks support leaving the law alone or expanding it.

Thorpe said that the benefits of the reform law have not been effectively communicated. He cited as an example the tax credits for small businesses to offer insurance to their workers.

Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of the Georgia voters polled strongly support raising the state tax on cigarettes from the current 37 cents a pack to 68 cents a pack, which was recommended by the tax reform council.

Just 19 percent strongly oppose the tobacco tax increase.

Georgia’s cigarette tax is among the lowest in the U.S. Several health organizations have called for the tax to be raised by $1, which they say would raise an estimated $350 million in revenue for the state.

Just 16 percent of those polled strongly support putting a state sales tax on groceries.

“The grocery tax didn’t poll well at all,’’ Thorpe said. He noted that the cigarette tax support reflects decades of public awareness work explaining the health effects of smoking.

Bullock said that while the tobacco tax gets wide support, some Republican leaders may have trouble voting for one.

“A number of legislators have promised they would not vote for any tax increase,’’ Bullock said.