Voters sick of health care debate

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Story highlights

  • Voters are weary of congressional bickering over health care law
  • Polls show voter attitudes about health care law unchanged, polarized
  • Some rural doctors worry about becoming political pawns in debate

Thomas Dean is sick of all the congressional bickering over the health care law.

Sure, the small town doctor understands the law's technical nuances and what's at stake for the millions of people covered by President Barack Obama's biggest policy achievement.

Sure, he knows the law has its problems and that House Republicans are pushing -- for the 33rd time -- to repeal what has become known as "Obamacare," or parts of it.

But Dean, who is one of only three physicians in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, a town of roughly 1,000 people, has had just about enough of the time-consuming arguments on Capitol Hill.

"It's complicated and it's easily manipulated and easily demagogued. I'm tired of the politics. ... The gridlock has hurt us for sure," Dean said as he took a break from his rounds. "We need to move forward with what we have."

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Dean is not alone in his exasperation. Americans have long held entrenched positions on the Affordable Care Act. According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted immediately after the Supreme Court upheld the law two weeks ago, 52% of those polled said they favored all or most of the law's provisions, while 47% opposed them.

Those types of numbers "have been set in stone" since the law's passage in 2010, said Mollyann Brodie, senior vice president for public opinion and survey research for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A similar poll conducted by Kaiser just after the ruling found that 47% of those polled were in favor of the ruling, 43% were against and 10% were unsure.

"The sense of voter fatigue depends on the voter's (political) position," Brodie said. "Those in favor are tired of this ongoing debate and want opponents to drop their efforts. For Republicans and those who oppose the law, they are absolutely content to keep going."

That leaves independents, the highly coveted voting bloc that is the holy grail of election year politics. But, according to Kaiser's polling, independents are tired of the back-and-forth too, Brodie said.

"Those folks are more likely to say it's time to move on and they're tired of this," Brodie said.

They are folks like Vietnam veteran Hans Engel.

"My big thing is if you put all of Congress on Social Security, I bet that thing would get solved real quick," Engel said as he prepared for the night's spaghetti dinner at Firestone VFW Post 3383 in Akron, Ohio.

As a disabled veteran on Medicare, he worries about how potential cuts to entitlement spending will affect his health care -- especially as he and fellow baby boomers age and more of them rely on the program.

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"I'm all for sacrifice across the board," he said, referring to proposals to trim the nation's debt. "I paid into it all my life and this is the baloney you're gonna pull?"

He's also concerned about the law's costs.

"I'm a registered Democrat, but more and more and more I'm looking a different way," Engel said. "They want to keep taxing and spending our money."

Engel's frustration is pretty indicative of broader voter fatigue when it comes to debate over the health care law and most things in Congress, said David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointing to Congress' abysmal approval rating.

"I don't think voters are paying attention to what Congress is doing right now," Bositis said. "They think Congress -- especially the House -- is a bunch of fools. These guys are like characters out of 'Saturday Night Live.' "

Voters are also not fooled about what the House vote on repealing the law is really about, Bositis said.

"This is just a campaign stunt and voters are fed up," he said. Voters know that "when these guys are campaigning they're going to say 'I voted to get rid of Obamacare.' "

At the Ballinger Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed hospital in Ballinger, Texas, the center's staff is acutely aware of the high-stakes political debate over the health care law taking place in Washington.

But with a service area of 635 square miles, and 8,500 citizens to serve -- in a state that the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently recently ranked worst in delivering health care services -- Ballinger officials, like many rural health care providers, say they want Congress to keep them out of a high-stakes games of political chicken.

"We don't want rural to be used as a poker chip in an election game," said Ballinger administrator Lance Keilers.

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