Bush's unhealthy agenda

The president may be missing the issue currently most important to Americans -- he's wrong, it seems, about the nation's biggest fear factor.

Published May 6, 2005 4:36PM (EDT)

Lately, he's spent a lot of time talking about Social Security, and when that doesn't seem to be doing much for his popularity, there's always been national security to fall back on. The bad news for President Bush is that he may be missing the issue currently most important to Americans -- he's wrong, it seems, about the nation's biggest fear factor. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's April 2005 Health Poll Report Survey, 49 percent of poll respondents identified themselves as "very worried" about the rising cost of health care, compared with only 19 percent of respondents who were very worried about being the victim of a terrorist attack.

In fact, respondents were less worried about terrorism than about almost any other issue. Terrorist attacks ranked below other health care concerns -- 42 percent of respondents said they were very worried about not being able to afford the health care they need, while 35 percent were very worried about losing their health insurance -- and below other concerns such as not being able to pay rent or a mortgage (about which 29 percent were very worried) or losing a job (about which 23 percent were very worried). Apparently, Americans are slightly less worried about terrorist attacks than they are about losing money in the stock market: Twenty percent of respondents called themselves "very worried" about that.

At least one American, though, isn't too concerned about health care in America: Rush Limbaugh. "We had news last week that actually there are not nearly as many uninsured Americans health care-wise as has been reported for the last 10 to 15 years," he said on his show last week. Naturally, he blamed progressives for overhyping the issue. "You've got the left trying to demagogue health care in this country," he said.

We didn't know "demagogue" could be used as a verb, but we do know that Limbaugh is fudging the facts. As Media Matters.com points out, although recent tallies of uninsured Americans have been lower than the 2000 Census Population Survey's estimate of 45 million, the discrepancy is likely due to the fact that several million of those initially estimated to be uninsured are currently covered by Medicaid. Moreover, President Bush's 2006 budget proposal called for Medicaid to be cut by $45 billion, and though Congress eventually settled on a $10 billion cut, that's still likely to increase the number of uninsured Americans.

There is at least a bit of uplifting news this week on health care. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is currently running Cover the Uninsured Week, which offers a state-by-state guide on finding health insurance, seminars encouraging small business owners to provide health coverage for their employees, and "interfaith activities to highlight the moral urgency for solving this problem."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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