Public wary of cutting hospital payments to reduce deficit

The emergency room ambulance entrance at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Calif.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON – American voters may be concerned about government spending, but they don’t want federal budget negotiators to cut payments to hospitals, a new poll indicates.

Nearly seven in 10 registered voters said they oppose reductions in what the government Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs pay hospitals, the survey found. Two-thirds believe that such cuts would harm access to healthcare.

“This is simply not a direction that is popular with the public,” said Public Opinion Strategies co-founder Bill McInturff, a veteran Washington pollster who conducted the survey for the American Hospital Assn. McInturff said other polling he has done on public attitudes of options for reining in deficits indicates that hospital cuts are the least popular, a feeling shared by Republican and Democratic voters.


Trimming what Medicare and Medicaid pay hospitals has been an oft-used strategy embraced by both political parties to control spending, in part because the two programs cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Today, hospitals and other interest groups are furiously trying to defend their shares of the federal budget as Democrats and Republicans discuss major cutbacks in the debate over avoiding the impending “fiscal cliff,” the tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect at year-end.

McInturff said Americans have been more open to cutting government payments to healthcare providers in the past when there was a broader feeling that the Medicare program for the elderly was in severe financial distress. But he noted that is not the case today. Medicare’s largest trust fund is not projected to beginning running a deficit for 12 years.

He said many voters, particularly seniors, know that Medicare is already slated to cut future payments to hospitals under the new healthcare law, a compromise that hospitals agreed to in exchange for the law’s program for expanding insurance coverage.

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