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Support for U.S. healthcare law edges up despite website woes

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans appear to be somewhat warmer to President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, despite the troubled roll out of the government website that is essential for its success, a poll released on Wednesday found.

The Gallup survey showed people "are slightly more positive now" that they were shortly before the launch of healthcare.gov, which aims to allow consumers to enroll and shop on their own for a health insurance plan.

Still, 45 percent of those polled in mid-October said they generally approve of the law compared to 50 percent who said they disapprove, Gallup said. In August, 41 percent backed the health reform plan while 49 percent did not. The healthcare plan continues to polarize Republicans and Democrats.

The nationwide polling firm surveyed more than 1,500 adults between October 18 to October 20, amid the technical problems that have plagued the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplace website, which launched Oct 1.

"This suggests that the poor performance of the health exchange sites may not at this point be negatively affecting Americans' views of the ACA overall," Gallup researchers said of the survey, which questioned people just days after the partial government shutdown ended.

Gallup's poll also showed a gap in support between younger Americans, whose enrollment is seen as critical to the law's success, and those who are older and qualify for health insurance through the federal government's Medicare program.

More than half of 18- to 29-year olds - or 51 percent - backed the health reforms compared to 38 percent of those 65 and older, according to the poll, which has a margin-of-error rate of plus-or minus 3 percentage points.

The findings come as the Obama Administration scrambles to fix the website, promising a "tech surge" with a team of government and industry experts to fix the problem and offering other options such as telephone enrollment.

Republicans in Congress have also begun their own investigations of the website's problems. Conservatives have long opposed the law, also known as "Obamacare," and made its defunding the focus of their political strategy, which led to the federal government shutdown earlier this month.

"The law remains one of the most polarizing issues Gallup has measured, with more than eight in 10 Democrats approving, while more than eight in 10 Republicans disapprove," the polling firm said.

Later on Wednesday, health insurance industry executives will meet with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House officials, the White House said.

The Obama administration has also scheduled a briefing with Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, some of whom have expressed concern with the program's troubles.

Gallup's poll showed the number of Democrats who embrace the measure has grown. In August, 71 percent of those who identified as Democrats said they favored the law compared to 83 percent in October. Slightly more political independents also said they backed it, while Republican numbers were largely unchanged.

Despite the increase in support for the health law, Gallup said its other research shows a majority of Americans still want lawmakers to modify it "in some way - repealing it entirely, scaling it back, or expanding it."

Overall, most polls have shown that a narrow majority of Americans oppose the healthcare law. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Tuesday showed 54 percent of people opposed the law while 46 percent favored it.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Jackie Frank)

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