More oppose than support Republican Medicare plan: poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More Americans oppose than support a Republican plan to revamp the Medicare healthcare program for seniors, presenting a challenge to the party ahead of next year’s presidential and congressional elections.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday shows 43 percent of respondents oppose the Medicare plan proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Only 37 percent of respondents said they supported did and 20 percent said they were not sure.

Voter anger over the Ryan proposal that would revamp Medicare into a voucher-like system for future retirees helped give Democrats a victory in a traditionally Republican congressional district in New York last month.

“Medicare is going to be an Achilles heel for them going forward. It’s going to be hard for Republicans to talk about it,” said pollster Cliff Young.

The results ran mostly along party lines with 66 percent of Republicans backing the plan and 69 percent of Democrats opposing it. Only 25 percent of independents said they supported the plan, while 39 percent opposed it.

The poll divided questions about the proposal between a group that was prompted about the “Ryan plan” and a group that was given no indication that the questions were based on the proposal by the Republican lawmaker.

Attitudes are mixed toward giving the elderly vouchers to buy private health coverage, the poll shows.

Among those asked about the “Ryan plan” in the questioning, 54 percent said they supported giving vouchers to Medicare beneficiaries to purchase private insurance. Support for vouchers fell to 49 percent in the group not prompted about the Ryan plan.

Pollster Chris Jackson said questions reflected only factual details about the plan with no information about what would happen to the existing Medicare program. The Ryan plan would keep existing fee-for-service Medicare for anyone currently 55 an older. But anyone retiring in 2022 would get a voucher to purchase subsidized health plans from private insurers.

Jackson said the data show the idea of vouchers is “reasonably acceptable” but also reflect a basic uncertainty about the proposal.

The poll shows that 51 percent of people oppose the proposal to gradually raise the age to qualify for Medicare to 67 from the current age of 65.

The level of opposition was 50 percent in the group not prompted about the Ryan plan.

The nationwide poll of 1,132 adults was conducted from June 3 through June 6 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The survey also showed that President Barack Obama is still holding a big lead over possible Republican rivals in the 2012 election race despite anxiety about the economy.

(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by David Lawder)