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Opposition to Obama's Health-Reform Plan Is High, but Easing

The poll also carries a clear warning for both major political parties: Forty-three percent of respondents consider themselves independents, the most ever in a Post-ABC poll, and about a third of them say they do not trust either side to deal with the nation's biggest problems in the years ahead.

More than seven in 10 Americans, including majorities across party lines, say they think Obama and congressional Democrats should adjust the health-care legislation to appeal to some Republican lawmakers. Half credit the Democrats with making a good-faith effort to do so already, while most, 62 percent, say the GOP is not returning the favor.

Nearly half of all Americans, 45 percent, say the reform plan would create too much government involvement in the system, a number on par with polls taken during President Bill Clinton's doomed efforts at big health-care changes in 1993 and 1994. Just over half of independents say the current plan would amount to overreach, significantly more than said so in the early 1990s. About two-thirds say they think the reform plan would increase the federal budget deficit.

GOP insistence on placing new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits finds significant public backing: Nearly two-thirds support caps on the amount of money that can be collected as a result of medical errors, with support increasing since June.

There is, however, less backing for the idea of a new tax on insurance companies that offer high-cost, big benefit health plans; 45 percent of Americans favor such a levy, and support plummets if it is suggested that companies would have to raise fees for those policies as a result.

Above it all, the change in opinion on the broad question of whether government reform is necessary to control costs and expand coverage has been halted. Fifty-three percent now call government action essential, while 44 percent see it as doing more harm than good.

In his address to Congress, Obama made a direct appeal to the vast majority of Americans who have health insurance to try to reassure them about how his plan would affect them. "Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have," he said, to opponents' jeers.

There is some evidence in the poll that this line of argument is working. Half of the insured now see the possibility for legislation that would allow individuals to keep their coverage without changes, up from 37 percent in June. But more still think changes would hurt their insurance coverage, their costs and their overall care.

Adding to the reservations about major reform is that a sizable number, 40 percent, think it would weaken Medicare, a figure that peaks at 56 percent among seniors.

Overall, seniors remain solidly opposed to health-care reform, and the number who think government involvement would do more harm than good continues to rise even as it has fallen among younger adults.

The loss of support among seniors has been a critical component of the issue. In June, seniors trusted Obama more than they did the Republicans in Congress by a margin of 62 to 24 percent; now, 44 percent side with the GOP, 39 percent with Obama.

Majorities of seniors approved of Obama's job performance consistently from his first months in office through mid-July, but his rating among seniors has since dropped to 38 percent, with 57 percent disapproving. Over all age groups, 54 percent approve of his performance, while 43 percent disapprove, the lowest marks of his presidency.

Among all Americans, Obama has lost ground to congressional Republicans over the summer on handling not only health care, but also the economy and the budget deficit. He still maintains double-digit leads on each, but the advantages are no longer commanding.

At the same time, what was a 56 percent to 30 percent advantage for Democrats in terms of public trust on the major issues facing the nation has slipped to 48 percent to 28 percent. Nineteen percent now consider neither party better able to cope with big problems, the most to say so in Post-ABC News polls dating to 1982.

When it comes to blame for the tone of the debate, about half say both sides are equally at fault; among the rest, about twice as many place primary culpability with the GOP as they do with the Democrats.

The telephone survey was conducted Thursday through Saturday among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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