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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Poll finds enduring support for Mass. health law

Most undeterred by website failures

The strong public support for the Massachusetts health care law has not wavered, despite the well-publicized troubles of the state’s new health insurance website, a new poll has found.

Sixty-three percent of adults said they support the law, which is intended to ensure that almost everyone has health insurance — the same percentage as in a similar survey conducted in 2011. Both polls were conducted by the Boston Globe and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Fewer than half the people questioned in the latest survey knew anything about the difficulties with the state’s health insurance website after it was retooled to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, starting last October. The site often was down, and when it worked, consumers could not determine their eligibility for government-subsidized coverage and experienced other problems, forcing some to go without coverage temporarily and use paper workarounds.

The results show that the Massachusetts health insurance law, enacted in 2006, is an entrenched and accepted part of life in the state, said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard and the poll’s codirector.

Given the recent website troubles, Blendon said, “It would have been a real possibility in my mind that support for the law would have been substantially lower. . . . People are still incredibly supportive of the law.”

Ann Hurd is among the supporters, despite her firsthand experience with the balky website when she applied for health insurance in December.

“You weren’t able to get through to anything,” said Hurd, a poll respondent who agreed to answer follow-up questions from a reporter. “You’re just stuck there. You try like a week or two later and they get you to the next step. Then you were stuck there.”

Eventually, Hurd was able to learn the premium prices, which approached $500 a month, more than she said she could afford from her pay as a baker. Hurd, 39, of North Attleborough, joined the shrinking group of Massachusetts residents who are uninsured.

But still, she approves of the law. “I support it,” she said. “I don’t support the price.”

Glen Shor, chairman of the board and former executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority, the agency carrying out the health law, said he was not surprised by the survey results.

“The people of Massachusetts have long been supportive of ensuring that all residents of the Commonwealth are insured. That support has been enduring,” he said, “even during an intensive and raucous political debate over national health care reform.”

The Globe/Harvard poll involved cellphone and landline interviews, in English and Spanish, with 506 randomly selected Massachusetts adults between May 27 and June 2.

Close to half of respondents said the law was not having much impact on the quality of their health care or their ability to see a doctor and pay medical bills. And of those who did see an effect on those three issues, more said the law was helping than said it was hurting.

But the answers took a different turn when people were asked about costs. Only 35 percent believed it did not affect health care costs. Those who saw an impact were split on whether the law was helping or hurting.

Fred Bement, another survey respondent, believes the health care law is to blame for the rising price of the health insurance he obtains through his employer, a large defense contractor. “But it’s all right,” he said.

Bement favors providing health care to everyone. If his higher costs mean “that the entire populace has access to health care, to reasonable health care, that’s what it means to be part of the Commonwealth,” said Bement, 58, of Boxborough. “We all benefit from combining our wealth.”

Blendon, the survey director, said he was surprised that only 46 percent of respondents knew about the software failures at the Massachusetts Health Connector, which frustrated thousands of people attempting to obtain or renew health insurance last fall and early this year.

The administration of Governor Deval Patrick has promised to have a working website by Nov. 15, the start of enrollment for 2015. But just over half of the poll respondents who knew of the problems expected them to be resolved by the fall.

Asked how the Massachusetts law will affect health care in the state in the long run, 44 percent said they thought it would make things better, while 21 percent said it would make things worse.

Fifty-five percent of Massachusetts residents — about the same as in 2011 — support the state law’s requirement that everyone have insurance or pay a fine, a requirement also in the federal Affordable Care Act.

And 57 percent approve of the ACA, compared with 41 percent of the nation (according to a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll in April). Thirty-four percent of Massachusetts residents disapproved of the federal law, compared with 55 percent nationally.

But ACA proponents should not pin their hopes on the Massachusetts experience as a sign that national public opinion will eventually turn, Blendon said. In Massachusetts, the health care law always had the support of more than half the state’s residents.

Not surprisingly, support for the Massachusetts law varies by party affiliation, with 77 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans in favor.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.
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