WASHINGTON Americans remain skeptical of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform drive, but their views have not changed much after weeks of sometimes angry protests at public meetings, according to an NBC poll released on Tuesday.
Obama's approval rating on healthcare was at 41 percent, unchanged from last month, while 36 percent believed his reform plans were a good idea and 42 percent a bad idea -- also unchanged from last month's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
With Congress on a month long August break, the public relations battle over his top domestic priority has been center stage. Critics have disrupted some "town hall" meetings held by lawmakers, attracting enormous media attention.
But the poll found the number of Americans who thought their healthcare would get better under Obama's plan grew slightly in the last month from 21 percent to 24 percent -- within the margin of error. Forty percent believed it would get worse, virtually the same as last month.
Of those who had read or heard about the meetings, 62 percent said they would make no difference in their feelings about Obama's plan. They split evenly on whether the protests did more harm or good.
Misconceptions about the plan were widespread, however, with 55 percent saying it would give health coverage to illegal immigrants and 45 percent saying it would let the government decide when to stop care for the elderly. Both are untrue.
The poll of 805 Americans was taken from Saturday to Monday and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Support for a government-run public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers slipped slightly from 46 percent to 43 percent.
That proposal -- included in all three bills approved by committees in the House of Representatives -- has been a prominent feature of the healthcare debate after the White House seemed to waffle on its support over the weekend.
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Obama preferred the public option but would consider other approaches like public cooperatives if they increase choice and competition for insurance consumers.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday the administration had exhibited a "boring consistency" by expressing a preference for a public option but refusing to draw any lines in the sand.
The fate of a public option will be a key question for lawmakers when they return to work on the overhaul in September, along with the cost and scope of the legislation and how it will be paid for.
Obama wants legislation that will rein in costs, constrain insurance companies and extend coverage to most of the 46 million Americans without health insurance.
(Writing by John Whitesides, editing by Todd Eastham)