Most in US back mandatory health coverage-study

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Jan 15 (Reuters) - As health care generates debate in this year's presidential campaign, about 68 percent of Americans say individuals should be required to have medical insurance, with government help for those who cannot afford it, a survey released on Tuesday found.

According to the survey by The Commonwealth Fund, an independent foundation working toward health policy reform, health insurance mandates were supported by 80 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Independents.

The problem of how to provide health insurance to all Americans is one of the top campaign issues being confronted by Democratic and Republican contenders for their parties' nominations to the November presidential election.

About 47 million people in the United States do not have health insurance.

"It is a significant issue as the number of uninsured people climbs every year and more and more middle-class people are affected," said Sara Collins, assistant vice president at The Commonwealth Fund.

The group said that while both leading Democratic and Republican candidates want to expand health coverage through the private insurance market, there were several key differences:

None of the Republican candidates would require that people have health insurance. On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards would require that all Americans eventually have coverage. Sen. Barack Obama would require that children have coverage.

Leading Democratic candidates would require employers to continue participating in the health insurance system either by providing coverage directly or contributing to the cost of their employees' coverage, while Republicans largely support changes in the tax code that could cut the role of employers in providing health insurance, according to Commonwealth.

"In some ways, the Republican proposals seek bigger changes to the way most people currently obtain coverage," said Collins. "Most of their plans propose a diminishing role for employers, whereas the leading Democrats favor keeping employers in the game."

Matt Oglevie, a self-employed, 37-year-old Kansas City painter, is experiencing the insurance crisis firsthand. His health is good but he worries because he has no insurance. He has tried taking a second job with an eye toward qualifying for insurance, but so far has not succeeded.

"I know I should have health insurance. If I broke my leg or something, I couldn't pay for it," he said.

The Commonwealth report was based on the responses of 3,501 adults age 19 and older living in the continental United States. It was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from June 6 through Oct. 24, 2007. (Reporting by Carey Gillam; editing by Cynthia Osterman)