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Utah voters overwhelmingly support Gov. Gary Herbert's private market alternative to expanding Medicaid, no matter their gender, age, religion or political persuasion –– or how the question is posed.
A poll of 623 registered voters in May and June by Dan Jones & Associates found:
• 88 percent favor Herbert's "Healthy Utah" plan over doing nothing.
• 70 percent prefer Herbert's plan to a straightforward Medicaid expansion as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.
• 59 percent say they support or strongly support Herbert's plan.
"This is a conservative state and people believe in individual responsibility, but even among that group there is surprising support for the Healthy Utah plan," said Sven Wilson, a Brigham Young University professor who analyzed the poll results for Notalys, a Utah-based consulting firm.
The phone and email survey was sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Utah Hospital Association, American Cancer Association, AARP of Utah, Voices for Utah Children and Utah Health Policy Project.
The findings track results of an earlier voter survey by BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
But this more recent questionnaire gives a more nuanced view of voters' convictions to see "if you unpack it a little bit will [support] go away," said Wilson.
Support for Herbert's plan was weakest among Democrats who prefer a straightforward Medicaid expansion. And support declined a bit among older and more affluent voters, but was still strong among those groups and every other demographic category, Wilson said.
Sixty-four percent of voters who identify as Republican and "very conservative" support the governor's plan, while just 13 percent oppose it, the poll found.
And of the 65 percent who agree that "individuals and families should generally be responsible for meeting their own health care needs," 80 percent also agree that "individuals who are unable to afford health insurance should receive help from government" sources.
"It's a mischaracterization of the state's views to say we have all these people who don't want any government involvement in health care," Wilson said.
Utah's Republican governor has been lobbying the Obama administration for flexibility to craft a plan that GOP legislative leaders can get behind.
The closed-door negotiations leave much to the imagination, shown by the fact that only 40 percent of polled voters said they are familiar with the plan.
But when the plan is described as using $250 million in federal funds to buy private insurance for Utahns living at or near the poverty line, 58 percent say they support or strongly support the idea, with 24 percent undecided and 16 percent opposed or strongly opposed.
When other features of the plan were explained, such as Herbert's desire for flexibility to impose a work requirement and have enrollees pay for a portion of their coverage, support increased.
Herbert acknowledges that it's hard for lawmakers to coalesce around a plan that's still under negotiation, but said it's designed as a temporary experiment. Lawmakers are concerned about the long-term implications to state and federal budgets, but "we will be able to decipher that," he said.
Utah voters "recognize that there are people who are hurting and who need a little assistance," Herbert added. "We've come up with a proposal that makes sense. It respects the taxpayers who are spending the money. We're being charged for it; whether we like it or not, it's the law of the land, and we're just taking the money and redirecting it into a better, more efficient program."
The poll, a random sample of registered Utah voters, set a county quota to ensure that every county was represented. Data were statistically adjusted to reflect likely voters in 2014.
But results from the raw, unweighted data were "qualitatively similar," said Jay Goodliffe, another analyst at Notalys and political science professor at BYU.
71% • Believe it's appropriate for the state to accept federal assistance in health care.
83% • Believe "all legal Utah residents should have access to affordable health insurance."
54% • Would be more likely to support candidates who back Herbert's Healthy Utah plan.