NASHVILLE — Six out of 10 Tennessee voters said in a recent survey they oppose cutting federal money for the Medicaid program that covers an estimated 1.5 million poor mothers, children and disabled and elderly Tennesseans.
Sponsored by the American Medical Association, the June 15-19 poll of 500 registered Tennessee voters was among surveys conducted in seven states by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
It comes as the GOP-led Congress struggles to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.
The House in early May passed a plan that cuts Medicaid and makes major changes to funding for the Obamacare insurance exchanges where millions of Americans buy health plans, often with federal subsidies.
GOP senators, however, have balked on a plan presented by a 13-person group appointed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that proposes even deeper cuts to Medicaid.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for example, has questioned GOP plans to do away with a $172 billion investment tax that helps fund the ACA.
Efforts to contact staffers for Corker and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.
Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, one of several state groups battling proposed cuts in the 2010 Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, said, "I think that it's not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans support Medicaid."
"It's clear they want Congress to fix what's broken in the health care system but feel they're slipping in these massive cuts."
Medicaid, created in 1965, is an open-ended entitlement program, meaning the federal government matches whatever states spend. That's about 66 cents of every dollar that TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid, spends.
The reform plan would limit and cap Medicaid funding, meaning less money to spend on a growing population in future years.
The AMA's Tennessee survey found a plurality — 47 percent of those polled — believe "Obamacare" was a "bad idea." But 35 percent told pollsters they believe it was a "good idea." Another 17 percent had no opinion.
Seventy-seven percent of Republicans called Obamacare a "bad idea."
Still, 42 percent of those surveyed said they think the House Republican bill is a bad idea, too. Just 22 percent called it good, while 33 percent had no opinion.
A majority of Democrats, 77 percent, and 50 percent of independents said they believe the House bill is a bad idea, while 40 percent of Republicans said it was a good idea.
In another finding, 56 percent don't want senators to pass the House bill as is, with 30 percent wanting "major" changes made and 26 percent saying they didn't want senators to pass any part of the House bill.
Only 9 percent of voters said they wanted the Senate to pass the House legislation just as it is, while 24 percent wanted to see senators make minor changes before passing it.
Forty-nine percent of the Tennesseans surveyed said they viewed TennCare positively. Another 19 percent were neutral. Only 15 percent held unfavorable views of TennCare.
Voters were evenly divided — 39 percent either way — over whether to keep Medicaid funding at its present level or to increase it. Only 9 percent want to decrease Medicaid funding.
The poll's accompanying memo from pollsters said "it is important to note" that a majority of those surveyed — 57 percent — are themselves enrolled or have a family member enrolled in Medicaid, or know someone with Medicaid coverage.
Sixty percent opposed cutting Tennessee's Medicaid program while 25 percent supported cuts.
The AMA paid for the polling in Tennessee, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia. The physicians group said the results show the House and Senate bills are largely unpopular among voters in nearly every region of the country.
The AMA came out last week against the Senate GOP plan, saying a bipartisan consensus was needed before going forward with such a major overhaul.
"If either the House or Senate health reform bill were to become law, not only would millions of Americans lose their insurance coverage, but many more would have higher — perhaps unaffordable — deductibles and co-payments that will discourage them from seeking the care they need," said AMA President David O. Barbe, M.D.
He said the polls in different states across the country "show that the proposed Medicaid cuts hit home, affecting many respondents directly and imperiling access to care. Americans are not only overwhelmingly opposed to the current reform proposals, but they are opposed to many of the major provisions on which they are built."
Barbe said both the House and Senate bills as drafted "violate the important principle 'first, do no harm.'"
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @ AndySher1.