By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and JENNIFER AGIESTA Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans who already have health insurance are blaming President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul for their rising premiums and deductibles, and overall 3 in 4 say the rollout of coverage for the uninsured has gone poorly.

 

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that health care remains politically charged going into next year’s congressional elections. Keeping the refurbished HealthCare.gov website running smoothly is just one of Obama’s challenges, maybe not the biggest.

The poll found a striking level of unease about the law among people who have health insurance and aren’t looking for government help. Those are the 85 percent of Americans who the White House says don’t have to be worried about the president’s historic push to expand coverage for the uninsured.

In the survey, nearly half of those with job-based or other private coverage say their policies will be changing next year — mostly for the worse. Nearly 4 in 5 (77 percent) blame the changes on the Affordable Care Act, even though the trend toward leaner coverage predates the law’s passage.

Sixty-nine percent say their premiums will be going up, while 59 percent say annual deductibles or copayments are increasing.

Only 21 percent of those with private coverage said their plan is expanding to cover more types of medical care, though coverage of preventive care at no charge to the patient has been required by the law for the past couple of years.

Fourteen percent said coverage for spouses is being restricted or eliminated, and 11 percent said their plan is being discontinued.

“Rightly or wrongly, people with private insurance looking at next year are really worried about what is going to happen,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who tracks public opinion on health care issues. “The website is not the whole story.”

Employers trying to control their health insurance bills have been shifting costs to workers for years, but now those changes are blamed increasingly on “Obamacare” instead of the economy or insurance companies.

Political leanings seemed to affect perceptions of eroding coverage, with larger majorities of Republicans and independents saying their coverage will be affected.

The White House had hoped that the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment season for the uninsured would become a teaching moment, a showcase of the president’s philosophy that government can help smooth out the rough edges of life in the modern economy for working people.

Instead the dysfunctional website became a parable for Republicans and others skeptical of government.

At the same time, a cresting wave of cancellation notices hit millions who buy their policy directly from an insurer. That undercut one of Obama’s central promises — that you can keep the coverage you have if you like it. The White House never clearly communicated the many caveats to that promise.

Disapproval of Obama’s handling of health care topped 60 percent in the poll.

With the website working better and enrollments picking up, Democrats are hoping negative impressions will quickly fade in the rearview mirror. The poll found that Democrats still have an edge over Republicans, by 32 percent to 22 percent, when it comes to whom the public trusts to handle health care.

But other potential bumps are just ahead for Obama’s law.

It’s unclear whether everyone who wants and needs coverage by Jan. 1 will be able to get it through the new online insurance markets. Some people who have to switch plans because their policies were cancelled may find that their new insurance covers different drugs, or that they have to look for other doctors.

In the poll, taken just after the revamped federal website was unveiled, 11 percent of Americans said they or someone in their household had tried to sign up for health insurance in the new marketplaces.

Sixty-two percent of those said they or the person in their household ran into problems. About one-fourth of all who tried managed to enroll. Half said they were not able to buy insurance, and the remaining quarter said they weren’t sure.

Phyllis Dessel, 63, of Reading, Pa., believes she is finally enrolled after 50 attempts online. The retired social worker, a political independent, currently has her own private insurance.

When Dessel described her experience, she jokingly asked, “Do you mind if I cry?”

Thanks to tax credits available under the law, she was able to save about $100 a month on her coverage. But she had to switch carriers because a plan with her current insurer cost more than she was willing to pay. She hasn’t gotten an invoice yet from her new insurance company.

The premiums were “not at all” what she expected, said Dessel. “They were much, much higher.”

A supporter of Obama’s overhaul, she believes changes are needed to make the coverage more affordable.

“I think with a lot of amendments or updates, it could be very, very helpful and beneficial,” said Dessel. “I know a lot of people who don’t have insurance. My hairdresser, my plumber don’t have insurance and they’re not going to get it if it’s not affordable.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 and involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.

AP-GfK poll: Americans favor farmers & food during drought
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When water gets scarce and the government slaps restrictions on its use, who should be first in line at the spigot? Farmers, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

The national survey provides a glimpse into how Americans think water should be managed at a time when abnormally dry weather has afflicted swaths of the country, and water shortages in some states have led to conflict over who should get water and how much.

Two-thirds of Americans believe water is a limited resource that can be depleted if people use too much, the poll found, and 70 percent believe that government should restrict how much residents and businesses use when drought takes hold.

When asked to rate the importance of competing needs when water is scarce, 74 percent said agriculture should be a top or high priority, followed by residential needs (66 percent), wildlife and ecosystems (54 percent) and business and industry (42 percent).

To Cheryl Hendricks in parched California, it’s simple: To put food on the table “we rely on agriculture.”

“It’s getting kind of serious when you are not giving water to people who are producing food,” said Hendricks, 63, of Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

She and her husband are taking shorter showers and removing lawn in response to California’s four-year drought, but for growers and ranchers “it’s more important for them to have it.”

The poll’s findings appear to run against criticism of farming practices that demand vast amounts of water. In California, for example, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water drawn from rivers, streams and the ground. Producing California’s almond crop consumes more water than all the showering, dish-washing and other indoor household water use of the state’s 39 million people.

The drought has been acute in California, where rainfall has dipped to record lows, reservoirs are depleted and state regulators have ordered conservation from cities, businesses and agriculture. Some communities have been given nine months to cut their use by 36 percent compared to 2013 levels.

Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, is hovering near its historic low water mark and residents in the Las Vegas area have limits on lawn watering. In Oakridge in western Oregon, a community well is 23 feet below normal and restrictions prevent residents from washing cars and filling swimming pools.

“We need to take care of people first — and food,” said William Clarke-Jessimy, 33, from Queens, New York, who thinks homes and agriculture should be favored for water rights.

He’s watched prices spike for California fresh fruits and vegetables in his local markets, and he worries about friends and family in the San Francisco area who are living with the scarcity of water, with no relief in sight.

“It’s really scary,” he said. “They need to find ways to deal with the drought on a long-term basis. I don’t think a lot of people realize how bad it really is.”

Earlier this month, the House passed Republican-backed legislation designed to bring more water to California’s farm belt. Republicans have blamed some cutbacks on environmental regulations designed to protect salmon and the threatened Delta smelt, a three-inch-long fish that is disappearing. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has proposed spending $1.3 billion over a decade for reservoirs, desalination projects and water recycling.

According to the survey, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to call water for agriculture a top priority, 81 percent to 74 percent, respectively. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see water for wildlife and ecosystems as a top need, 61 percent to 49 percent.

There was little variation in regions around the nation in picking top priorities.

The poll also found most Americans — nearly 80 percent — think government should limit developers to building only in places with an adequate, long-term water supply.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on groundwater use for irrigating crops in some parts of the heavily farmed San Joaquin Valley. California director Adam Scow said the poll’s findings reflect that people value food production but the group believes “we simply don’t have the water” to support crops in some drought stricken regions.

David Abbott has witnessed the toll in his hometown.

The resident of Winton, California, in the heart of the state’s Central Valley farm belt, has seen fields turn to dusty patches and farm workers end up jobless. Friends’ wells have gone dry.

In California, farmers have seen allocations of water from rivers and reservoirs slashed by government agencies in amounts greater than at any other time in California history, forcing many to tap depleted groundwater sources or buy it at high prices.

Abbott, 27, a part-time college business professor, places home use and the needs of agriculture on about equal footing. For his part, he’s watering less outdoors at home, has changed shower heads to conserve and waits to get a full load of dirty laundry before turning on the washing machine.

“I know it’s hard when we don’t have water,” said Abbott, who lives amid farms and almond orchards. “They say we are going to have a real wet winter, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9-13, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans favor diplomatic ties with Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly three-fourths of Americans think the United States should have diplomatic ties with Cuba, but they’re not sure how far to go in lifting sanctions, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday as full diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally restored.

“Relations between Cuba and the U.S. I think are long overdue. There’s no threat there,” said Alex Bega, 30, of Los Angeles. “I think the sanctions we have on them are pretty much obsolete.”

The resumption of normal ties ended decades of acrimony between the two nations that was hardened when President John F. Kennedy and Cuba’s Fidel Castro fought over Soviet expansion in the Americas. The new diplomatic status, however, does not erase lingering disputes, such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s desire to end a more than 50-year-old trade embargo and the U.S. push for Cuba to improve human rights and democracy.

The new poll also found that 58 percent of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Havana while 40 disapprove. By contrast, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the U.S. role in world affairs more generally, while 59 percent disapprove.

“I just disapprove of his politics in general,” said Julie Smith, 40, a university administrator from Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I just don’t think that us trying to improve relations with Cuba is beneficial to the United States.”

Respondents were split on what to do about the sanctions on Cuba. Forty-eight percent thought they should be decreased or eliminated entirely while 47 percent favored keeping them at their current level or increasing them. Five percent didn’t answer.

The story was different when it came to Iran.

Seventy-seven percent said they thought sanctions on Tehran should be kept where they are or increased, according to the poll, which was conducted just days before the U.S. signed an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Under the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program will be curbed for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions.

Mary Barry, 57, of Arlington, Texas, is happy that the Obama administration opened diplomatic efforts with both Cuba and Iran, but is wary about lifting sanctions on the two countries.

“I think we need to have diplomatic relations with Iran and monitor their nuclear weapon,” said Berry, who works producing and staging corporate business meetings. But, she said: “I think we need to keep the sanctions in place on Iran to make sure they’re doing what they’ve promised they’re going to do because I think Iran is a country that you can’t really trust.”

On Cuba, she thinks it’s “just time” to restore diplomatic relations. But she favors a gradual lifting of sanctions on Cuba. “I don’t think they should be lifted immediately,” she said.

There is some momentum in Congress, however, to lift the trade embargo.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., backs a bipartisan bill in the Senate to lift the embargo, which she said must be done for the U.S. to avoid losing investment opportunities that will come with loosening of travel restrictions to the island.

“Once millions of American tourists are going, they will need places to stay and they will need food to eat. … So when they come, they are going to be starting to sleep in Spanish hotels and eat German foods because those countries will be able to supply what they need in the tourism industry, not to mention the computers and Wi-Fi and everything else,” Klobuchar said in an interview.

She predicted the legislation, which has 20 co-sponsors so far, would pass, although maybe not this year. “I know there are some people who have long been opposed to this,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey thinks the Obama administration’s work to restore relations is an attempt to validate the Castro regime’s “brutal behavior.”

“I remain deeply concerned with ongoing human rights violations in Cuba,” Menendez said Monday. “There have been over 2,800 political arrests on the island this year alone.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com