A "clear majority" of Americans now support a government-run public insurance plan as a competitor to private insurance companies, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published Tuesday.
The findings show that public support for a public option is growing. Over the last two months, the public option's support has risen from 52 to 57 percent, the poll says.
"Overall, 45 percent of Americans favor the broad outlines of the proposals now moving in Congress, while 48 percent are opposed, about the same division that existed in August, at the height of angry town hall meetings over health-care reform," the Post writes. "Seven in 10 Democrats back the plan, while almost nine in 10 Republicans oppose it.
Just 37% said they wanted a bipartisan plan without a public option. Independents favor a public option even if it doesn't have support from congressional Republicans (none have backed a government-run insurance plan to date).
In the Senate, debate over the public option is fierce. The Senate Health and Labor Committee approved a version of the legislation which included a provision for a government insurance competitor, while the Senate Finance Committee did not.
Compromise options appear to be on the table. In one plan, the public option would serve as a fallback measure -- the "trigger plan" -- whereby if private insurers didn't increase competition or lower prices by a certain amount, the government option would automatically kick in. Another plan would allow states to opt out of a government-run insurance plan.
In either case, most Americans wouldn't be able to take advantage of the public option. Those with employer-provided healthcare would be ineligible; primarily the option would be focused on individuals who are forced to buy insurance on the open market.
Health insurers are staunchly opposed, as are Republicans. Republican leaders say opening the door to the public option would eventually lead to government takeover of healthcare and drive private insurers out of business.
The poll also finds strong opposition to a Democratic plan to tax high-cost insurance plans: "Sixty-one percent oppose the idea, while 35 percent favor it."
"Nearly seven in 10 say they think that any health-care measure would increase the federal budget deficit, a possible concern for Obama," it also says. "But nearly half of those who see the legislation as growing the deficit also say the increase would be 'worth it.'"
On the private insurer front, UnitedHealth announced Tuesday that their profits for the third quarter had risen 13 percent over the previous year, despite a shrinking coverage pool caused by countrywide layoffs. UnitedHealth and Wellpoint, a Blue Cross servicer, dominate the private health insurance market.