A majority of Florida voters oppose the national healthcare law and half want it repealed, a new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll shows two weeks after President Barack Obama’s signature achievement was largely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Only 43 percent of voters statewide support the Affordable Care Act and 52 percent oppose it, with 5 percent undecided. With the exception of southeast Florida, more voters think the law will make the healthcare system worse.
More voters also favor the state opting out of provisions of the law, something Gov. Rick Scott has already said it would do.
And 50 percent want to see Republicans follow through on their vow to repeal the law, with 43 percent saying it should remain.
In perhaps the most worrisome sign for Obama and Democrats, only 39 percent of voters 65 years or older support the law. Seniors make up about 30 percent of the overall state’s electorate.
“Florida voters didn’t like it a year ago, two years ago [and] they still don’t like it,” said pollster Brad Coker. “There’s nothing there that suggests healthcare is a winner for Obama’s people.”
Obama has played down the law on the campaign trail, saying the country is ready to move past the divisive debate of two years ago. But the poll illustrates the opportunity for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to continue calls for the law’s repeal.
Romney’s “more effective trying to make healthcare one of the reasons the economy is doing poorly,” Coker said, noting that some insurers have already raised premiums in advance of the law taking full effect.
“They’re going to require all these people to have insurance, and they won’t be able to afford it and they won’t pay it, and I’ll have to pay for them,” said Republican voter Randy Gaskins, 57, a firefighter and paramedic in Gainesville. “I’m working two jobs to keep my head above water. I can’t afford this.”
The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the November general election — was conducted July 9-11 for the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon, a nonpartisan, Jacksonville-based company. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.
The results mirror surveys in other states and show the same entrenched partisan feelings. Among Florida Democrats, 76 percent support the law; among Republicans 86 percent oppose.
Independent voters oppose it by 55 percent, with 9 percent still undecided.
Support for “Obamacare” exceeded 50 percent only in southeast Florida, with 53 percent. Tampa Bay had the lowest support, with 36 percent, although the strongest opposition came from conservative North Florida, where 61 percent oppose the law.
More women than men, 48 percent to 38 percent, favor the law and support was highest among voters age 18-34, with 57 percent. Fifty-two percent of Hispanic voters support it, while 86 percent of African-American voters do.
“We’ve got to do something in this country for our people,” said Pam Reynolds, 56 of Panama City, who had been unable to afford insurance and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
She said she was saved by being enrolled in Medicaid. The struggling economy has made her question voting for Obama again but when told Romney wants to repeal the new healthcare law, which would help millions of people like her, she changed her mind.
Obama and his allies have been criticized for poorly selling the public on the need for a broad overhaul of the healthcare system and reasoned that as more people understand the benefits, approval will rise. But two years after Obama signed the bill into law, there has been little sign of that. Republicans captured the emotion, and the Supreme Court decision two weeks ago has reignited that passion.
Already, millions of dollars in TV ads, some of them misleading or false, have crowded the airwaves in Florida and opponents show no sign of letting up.
The heart of the law is the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fee or tax. Although the mandate originated in conservative circles and is part of the Massachusetts healthcare law enacted while Romney was governor, Romney and other Republicans have cast it a broad encroachment on personal liberty.
The high court upheld the mandate under the taxing authority of the federal government.
But the court invalidated penalties states would face for not implementing other changes of the law. Those include establishing a Web-based marketplace where people can shop for insurance, or defer to a federal program, and expanding Medicaid to reduce the number of uninsured residents.
In Florida, about 3.8 million people, or 21 percent, lack coverage.
The poll shows 49 percent of voters think the state should opt out of the optional provisions, with 45 percent saying it should comply. Scott has already said the state will not set up the insurance exchanges or expand Medicaid, contending it would be too costly, even though the federal government would pay the entire cost for a few years and most to it afterward.
Alan Reichwein, 55, who owns an indoor foliage nursery in Eustis, said he opposes the law because of how it would affect his business. He currently has just over 50 employees, the threshold in which businesses must offer insurance or face penalties under the law.
“I cannot afford to be larger than 50 employees because the healthcare burden would be too large for me,” said Reichwein, a Republican. “I don’t want a law that forces me to provide benefits if I cannot afford to supply them.”
He said he currently provides half of his employees’ health insurance while they chip in the other half. Many of them decline because they don’t want to pay the other 50 percent.
“There’s a lot of good intention with these laws,” Reichwein said. “But their employer did provide healthcare [and] they either couldn’t afford it or didn’t want it.”
Said Doris Del Toro, 52, a small-business owner from Miami: “I don’t understand it at all. I think the president’s time was better spent on trying to improve the economy and create more jobs.”
Herald/Times staff writers Katie Sanders, Sergio Bustos and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.
Alex Leary can be reached at email@example.com.