By JENNIFER AGIESTA and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press

     WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly two years after President Barack Obama signed landmark legislation to cover the uninsured, a new poll finds his health care overhaul is neither better liked nor better understood.

     But as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the AP-GfK poll shows that Americans are less concerned that their own personal health care will suffer as a result of it.

     Shortly after the law passed in 2010, nearly half — 47 percent — said they expected the quality of their care to worsen. Now just 32 percent say that’s their worry.

     Most of the law’s major changes have yet to take effect, and dire predictions — of lost jobs, soaring premiums and long waits to see the doctor — have not materialized. Provisions that have gone into effect, including extended coverage for young adults on their parents’ insurance and relief for seniors with high prescription costs, only had a modest impact on health care spending.

     Lee Sisson, 63, a semi-retired businessman from Winter Haven, Fla., says he figures that he might be better off personally as a result of the overhaul. For example, it would limit how much health insurance companies can charge older adults. But self-interest hasn’t made Sisson a supporter.

     ”As a guy that’s semi-retired, the law would probably benefit me, and I’m still against it because it’s not good for our country,” said Sisson. He’s concerned about the cost of new government programs getting passed on to future generations.

     Most of the drop in people saying they believe their care will worsen actually comes from those like Sisson, who are opposed to it. Of the law’s opponents, 55 percent now say their care will worsen. But in April 2010, soon after the law passed, that share was 67 percent.

     Overall, half of Americans say they don’t think the quality of their care will change, while 14 percent expect it to improve.

     The health care debate may be getting less edgy, but it’s unclear how much it will help Obama and Democrats heading into a contentious 2012 election season. Americans remain cool to the major domestic accomplishment of the president’s first term, even if they like some of the law’s provisions.

     The poll found that 35 percent of Americans support the health care law overhaul, while 47 percent oppose it. That’s about the same split as when it passed. Then, 39 percent supported it and 50 percent opposed it.

     Opposition remains strongest among seniors, many of whom object that Medicare cuts were used to help finance coverage for younger uninsured people.

     ”We were supposed to have a nice, relaxed retirement, and now we are scared,” said Nancy Deister Knaack, 65, of Leawood, Kan., a retired special education teacher. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

     Confusion about the complex legislation has not helped Obama sell it to the public, contributing to an atmosphere in which wild charges about potential repercussions readily find an audience.

     Only about three in ten say they understand the law extremely or very well. Most, 44 percent, say they understand it just somewhat, while 29 percent say they understand it not too well or not well at all.

     On the key issue before the Supreme Court, however, public opinion is clear. Nearly 6 in 10 in say they oppose the law’s requirement that Americans carry health insurance, except in cases of financial hardship, or pay a fine to the government.

     Opponents argue that such a mandate is an unconstitutional expansion of federal power, amounting to Congress ordering private citizens to buy a particular product.

     The administration and many experts believe that the overhaul cannot work without an insurance requirement. The law guarantees that people with pre-existing medical problems can get coverage. Therefore, without a mandate, many healthy people may just postpone buying insurance until they get sick, driving up costs.

     Even many Democrats are uneasy about the insurance requirement, although it can be fulfilled by getting coverage through an employer, a government program or by directly buying a policy, in many cases with the help of federal subsidies.

     Las Vegas software engineer Michael Hugh, 37, says he supports the president and intends to vote for him, but the health care law should be revised.

     ”I am for the concept of it, but I am against the penalties,” he said. “It’s a good idea that they are taking down a wrong path because people shouldn’t be penalized for not having health care.” Hugh is currently uninsured but says he plans to get coverage through a new job.

     While opposition to an individual insurance requirement remains strong, the poll found that 60 percent support putting the obligation on employers. Businesses are currently under no legal requirement to provide insurance, and the law would penalize medium to large companies that fail to do so.

     The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted February 16-20, 2012 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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

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     Online:

     AP-GfK poll – http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

     Health care interactive – http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2011/healthcare

 

 

How the poll on the health care law was conducted

 

By The Associated Press

     The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the health care law was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Feb. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellular phones.

     Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

     Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

     As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

     No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.1 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

     There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

     The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 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 3.5 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

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap