June 21, 2007 -- A new poll shows health care is the leading domestic issue on voters' minds, second only to Iraq as the most important issue in the nation.
Twenty-one percent of voters in the poll call health care the issue they'd most like to hear candidates talk about in the 2008 presidential election. The issue edges out immigration, the economy, and gas prices as voter's top domestic concerns.
The survey comes as candidates campaign earlier than ever for their parties' nominations. Several candidates -- mostly Democrats -- have released the outlines of health care plans designed to offer medical insurance to all Americans.
"We may be on the edge of our next great national debate on health reform," says Drew Altman, president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey.
Stemming health care costs and covering the uninsured have eluded policy makers for decades. But Congress is getting set this summer to debate a huge expansion to government insurance programs for children.
Observers are hoping that the debate -- along with pressure from voters -- leads lawmakers and the next president to get serious about reforming the health care system.
"Only the presidential candidates have the ability to kick off a true national debate on health," Altman tells WebMD.
Nearly four in 10 of those surveyed said they want to hear candidates talk about coverage shortages and the uninsured. Close to three in 10 said health costs were their No. 1 concern.
A handful of states are pressing ahead with universal coverage plans. Massachusetts is set on July 1 to launch a new program designed to cover all the state's residents with a mixture of government subsidies, employer-sponsored coverage, and plans purchased by individuals.
Another effort in California faces a vote in the state legislature this summer.
"If those plans fail it will take a lot of wind out of the sails" of health reform, Altman says.
But few voters seem to have identified a candidate most able to address health care problems. Four in 10 Democrats and nearly seven in 10 Republicans said they couldn't or wouldn't name a candidate that best represents their views on health care.
For those that did, 33% chose Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led GOP candidates but was only named by 9% of Republicans.
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