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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan June 16, 2009

62 percent support new health care legislation, not Barack Obama's particular plan

A new ad urges support for President Barack Obama's push for major health care legislation. Created by the liberal group Americans United for Change, the ad argues that 62 percent of the public supports "the president's plan to reform health care," and that Republicans in Congress should too.

Here's the full script of the ad; you can also watch it via YouTube :

"In the Senate, they call 60 percent support a supermajority. Well, a new poll shows 62 percent of Americans support the president’s plan to reform health care. That means lowering costs, so everyone has access to quality, affordable care, protecting your choice of doctor, letting you choose between keeping the private insurance you have and a public health insurance plan. So if the Republicans in Congress ignore what 62 percent of us support, you gotta wonder: Who are they listening to?"

It's true that polls show solid majorities of the American public think the health care system needs change.

But there's a big difference between general support for health care legislation and the particulars of Obama's plan. The ad from Americans United for Change cites a Diageo Hotline Poll of June 10, 2009, saying that it showed 62 percent support for "the president's plan to reform health care." The actual question was this: "Do you support or oppose Congress and the president enacting a major overhaul of the U.S. health care system?" That question gauges whether people broadly support the president and Congress working together to change health care. (The poll was a random sample of 800 registered voters, and the Hotline is part of the nonpartisan news group National Journal.)

But the ad repeatedly cites the number in a misleading way. It makes it sound as if the 62 percent singled out the president's plan for support. It further distorts the poll by saying that same 62 percent backs a public health insurance plan, sometimes referred to as a public option. When the ad mentions the public option, a big "62%" flashes on the screen.

A public option is controversial in Congress. Democratic advocates for it say the public option would act as an insurer of last resort for people who have problems getting private insurance. Some Republicans say it will be a Medicare-style plan that will pay doctors and hospitals significantly less than private insurance, thus undermining the private insurance system. The devil is in the details here, and Congress is debating what a public option might look like.

The ad from Americans United for Change implies that 62 percent support a public health insurance plan. But the Diageo Hotline poll did not ask specifically about the public option.

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A poll that did, the Rasmussen Reports poll of June 15, 2009, asked the question plainly — "Would it be a good idea to set up a government health insurance company to compete with private health insurance companies?" — and found support split, with 41 percent answering yes, 41 percent answering no, and 18 percent saying they weren't sure. That's nowhere near 62 percent support.

It's true that large majorities of the public do want health care reform. The Diageo Hotline Poll showed that an even larger majority — 94 percent — said it was important or somewhat important that health care legislation pass this year. But it's not accurate to say that 62 percent favor Obama's plan above and beyond other ideas being considered in Congress. And it's incorrect to attribute that specifically to the public option. The ad gives the impression that rock-solid majorities are in favor of the specifics of Obama's plan. But the poll doesn't say that. We find their statement False.

Update, June 22, 2009: We ruled this statement False because the ad distorted the results of the poll.  Several days after we published this item a New York Times/CBS News poll showed 72 percent support for a public option.  But we're not changing our ruling because the New York Times poll hasn't changed the circumstances our the original fact we checked: The ad distorted the facts about the poll that it referenced.

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62 percent support new health care legislation, not Barack Obama's particular plan

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