(USA TODAY) -- Just 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid a roiling debate over whether the GOP will deliver on its signature promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
In the survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, a 53% majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.
But the dilemma for the GOP is this: Eight in 10 Republicans support repeal, and close to a third say the law should be repealed even if a replacement health care plan isn't ready yet. Just 11% of independents and 2% of Democrats feel that way.
The divide between the demands of the GOP base and the skepticism of the broader electorate helps explain why Senate Republican leaders have been forced to delay a vote as they scramble for the 50 votes needed to pass a measure.
Donald Jones, 61, a sheriff from West Frankfort, Ill., who was among those called in the survey, has seen both the benefits and costs of Obamacare. "I had one relative who probably was uninsurable and was able to get insurance that they wouldn't have been able to get otherwise," he said in a follow-up interview. "I had another family member who was forced to get insurance that they really can't afford to pay."
Now, he doesn't think Congress should repeal it and he objects to the Senate rush to a vote: "It has kept people from knowing enough about it."
In the survey, 45% oppose the Senate bill and nearly as many, 40%, say they don't know enough about it to have an opinion. The plan was drafted in closed sessions by a handful of Republican senators and staffers, and it hasn't gone through the customary process of committee hearings.
Even among Republicans, only 26% support the Senate bill; 17% oppose it. A 52% majority say they need more information before they can express a view.
Robert Ridge, 76, a retiree from Hazel Green, Ala., has some qualms about the lack of a public debate on the Senate bill, but he endorses the GOP's goal. "We need changes to Obamacare; it's imploding," he says. "If it solves the severe problems that Obamacare has, it would certainly be an improvement."
The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken by landline and cellphone, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Whatever the political disagreements, there is an overwhelming national consensus on what provisions any health care plan should include:
- Pre-existing conditions: More than three-fourths, 77%, say it is "very important" that the health care system permit people with pre-existing medical conditions to buy health insurance at the same price as others. Just 6% say that protection isn't important to them. The Senate bill requires insurers to accept those with pre-existing conditions, but it allows states to seek permission to reduce required benefits. Some patients could face dramatically higher costs or lifetime limits for treatments no longer defined as essential.
- Medicaid expansion: Nearly two-thirds, 63%, say it is "very important" that lower-income people who became eligible for Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act continued to be covered by Medicaid. Just 10% say that isn't important to them. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate plan, which would cut Medicaid spending by $772 billion over the next 10 years, would result in 15 million fewer people being covered.
- Lower premiums: Close to six in 10, 57%, say it is "very important" that insurance premiums go down in price; 17% say that's not important. The CBO predicts that premiums would rise for a few years under the Senate plan, then fall by about 30%. But overall health care costs would go up for most people because deductibles would be higher and some states wouldn't require insurers to provide some benefits that are now mandated.
"There are a whole lot of benefits to Obamacare, like the birth control (coverage), like not making women pay more for insurance, the supplement to those who cannot afford Medicaid, coverage of pre-existing conditions," says Melinda Mckonly, 67, a retired pastor from Manheim, Pa. "There are just a big list of things that help people."
By more than 4-1, those surveyed trust congressional Democrats over congressional Republicans to protect the interests of them and their families on health care, 43%-10%. Another 19% say they trust President Trump most. The president's ratings on handling health care far lags his standing on other issues, including the economy and national security. Twenty-seven percent approve of the job he's doing on health care; 61% disapprove.
Americans spread the blame for the problems Washington has had in enacting legislation on such major issues as health care, taxes and infrastructure. Asked who is most responsible for gridlock, 26% identify congressional Democrats and 24% congressional Republicans. Another 16% cite the Trump administration.
And 25% volunteer: All of the above.