When it comes to Obamacare versus Romneycare: Who really cares?

A lot of voters, according to polls.

In the world of politics, health care has become an issue that candidates from both sides of the aisle can use to reach supporters, said Stephen C. Brooks, associate professor in the University of Akrons Bliss Institute.

The federal health-care reform measure commonly known as Obamacare plays into the narrative that both sides are interested in portraying for their constituents, Brooks said. The opposition to it is based on the ideas that its bigger government, more government, more intrusive government thats why its wrong. The Democratic side of it is there is inequity in health care. That plays to the larger arguments related to everything else, but its a nice, easy example, not to just talk philosophy.

According to a recent poll by the national nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) said Medicare would be extremely important or very important to their decision to vote for President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Similarly, 67 percent said the federal health-care reform law would be extremely or very important in their choice.

The only issue that ranks higher than Medicare was the economy, which was extremely or very important to 91 percent of respondents.

Local voters voiced similar views.

In a Bliss Institute/Beacon Journal poll of Akron-Canton area adults this summer, nearly three-fourths of the 600 people recently polled from the five-county Akron-Canton area identified the topic as the biggest hot-button issue.

Health care has always been an issue, Brooks said. Obama came into office with a promise that he was actually going to do something and he did something. In that process, a couple of things politically happened. One is that it was approved in basically a unipartisan basis, not a bipartisan basis.

The battle lines were drawn, and they were drawn very early in Obamas term. He was not able to get any Republicans to assist him to do this.

Horse out of barn

Nevertheless, Summa Health System President and Chief Executive Thomas J. Strauss said he believes the horse is out of the barn when it comes to health reform, regardless of the election results.

The Affordable Care Act was a beginning, he said. Its not perfect, but it was a start toward change that was necessary. Theres no turning back.

The terms repeal and replace are interesting comments. The something else may and most likely will contain a lot of the provisions that are already in it, agreed Martin Hauser, president of Summas SummaCare insurance company and chief government relations officer for the health system.

Akron General Health System President and Chief Executive Thomas Tim Stover said he believes Romney might not repeal every aspect of health-care reform if elected, particularly the popular measure prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

However, Stover said, I think his over-arching philosophy, which I agree with, is that health care is local and needs to be taken care of on a local basis.

I do believe that there is a personal responsibility, he said. We all have a responsibility to improve the system.

Stover said he has concerns about the health-care reform law, including the risk that more employers will opt to pay a penalty rather than continue to offer health coverage.

If that occurs, were going to be dealing with potentially 60 to 70 percent of our patients on some type of government payer, Stover said. And at the end of the day, I really believe that was the goal to get to a universal payer.

Hot topic

Medicare continues to be a hot topic for both sides.

A proposal endorsed by Romney from his running mate, Paul Ryan, to change Medicare in the future to a market approach that allows consumers to select among private plans or a government-run plan is a reasonable thing, said J.B. Silvers, director of research at Case Western Reserve Universitys Health Systems Management Center in Cleveland. And, in fact, thats already happening, with millions of seniors enrolling in optional Medicare managed-care plans run by private insurance companies.

However, Silvers said, the billion-dollar cuts to Medicare that Romney repeatedly has said are coming under the Affordable Care Act actually are a reduction in payments to the optional Medicare managed-care plans, Silvers said. Those plans are getting paid more than the average cost of providing care under the traditional Medicare program.

That is not a cut in benefits, he said.

Akron Childrens Hospital President and Chief Executive William Considine said hed like to see a plan that separates children from Medicaid something neither party has proposed.

The state and federal program provides coverage to poor children and adults. Under the Affordable Care Act, more adults will qualify for the program.

Id like to see something on the national level that instead of every state having a different Medicaid program, why couldnt we have a federal program similar to Medicare for kids, Kidcaid or something like that, Considine said. Regardless of whos elected, were going to push those ideas.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.