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Health Care Emerges as Top Voter Concern for Midterms

Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, the number of uninsured Americans has declined to 28.3 million from 48.6 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (cahealthadvocates.org)
Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, the number of uninsured Americans has declined to 28.3 million from 48.6 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (cahealthadvocates.org)
October 10, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – As America's political divide sharpens, one issue most agree will be important at the ballot box next month is health care.

In a CBS News poll conducted last month, 70 percent of Americans said they think health care is "very important," more so than any other top issue.

Robert J. Blendon, senior associate dean for policy translation and leadership development at Harvard University's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said some voters are convinced that if Republicans retain their majority in Congress, they could try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act or make it harder for people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance.

"When you look at all the polls, and you ask people which party, people who are registered to vote that they see as 'better' on health care," Blendon said, "the Democrats have a very far lead on this issue."

South Dakota is one of 17 states that did not elect to expand Medicaid, although next month three more states – Idaho, Nebraska and Utah – will vote on expansion.

The latest report from Georgetown University found that 47 percent of lower-income adults in rural South Dakota don't have health insurance. At the same time, South Dakota consistently has increased its enrollment in the state's health-care exchange program, in contrast to many other states that report year-over-year decreases in Obamacare.

Blendon said he believes health care is a topic GOP candidates will be avoiding on the campaign trail.

"An important thing in this election: Many of the issues being discussed have a very emotional component. People feel very strongly about it," he said. "Taking things away from people is a much more powerful issue than promising some policy in the future."

Blendon added that health care, which typically is an issue of concern to older voters, also is driving millennials in this election.

"The issue of universal coverage has become sort of a very important symbolic issue, beyond just health-insurance coverage," he said. "It's an issue about fairness, everybody treated the same, where they're normally not health-care voters."

He said the "Medicare for All" movement polls particularly well with young people.

The poll is online at cbsnews.com, and the Georgetown study is at ccf.georgetown.edu.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD