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POLL: AMERICANS HAVE LITTLE FAITH IN GOVERNMENT

Thursday, 02 January 2014 07:19 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans enter 2014 with a profoundly negative view of their government, expressing little hope that elected officials can or will solve the nation's biggest problems, a new poll finds.

Half say America's system of democracy needs either "a lot of changes" or a complete overhaul, according to the poll conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just 1 in 20 says it works well and needs no changes.

Americans, who have a reputation for optimism, have a sharply pessimistic take on their government after years of disappointment in Washington.

The percentage of Americans saying the nation is heading in the right direction hasn't topped 50 in about a decade. In the new poll, 70 percent lack confidence in the government's ability "to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014."

The poll comes about two months after partisan gridlock prompted the first government shutdown in 17 years.

People feel somewhat better about their personal lives. Most have at least some confidence that they'll be able to handle their own problems in the coming year. A narrow majority say they'd do a better job running the country than today's leaders in Washington.

Local and state governments inspire more faith than the federal government, according to the poll, with 45 percent at least moderately confident in their state government and 54 percent expressing that much confidence in their local government.

When asked to name up to 10 world or national problems they would "like the government to be working on" in 2014, Americans chiefly cite issues that have dominated — and often flummoxed — the White House and Congress for five years. Health care reform topped the list. It is likely, however, that those naming the issue include both opponents and supporters of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul.

Jobs and the economy were next, followed by the nation's debt and deficit spending.

Some issues that draw ample media and campaign attention rank lower in the public's priorities. No more than 3 percent of Americans listed gay rights, abortion or domestic spying as prime topics for government action.

Regardless of the issue, however, Americans express remarkably little confidence that the federal government can make real progress.

For instance, 86 percent of those who called health care reform a top priority said they want the government to put "a lot" or "a great deal" of effort into it. But about half of them (49 percent) are "not at all confident" there will be real progress, and 20 percent are only "slightly confident."

This yawning gap between public desires and expectations is one of the poll's most striking findings. Even on an issue completely within the federal government's control, the budget and national debt, 65 percent of those who called it a priority say they have no confidence in the government's ability to fix it. Another 20 percent are only "slightly confident."

When it comes to the issues people cited as most important to them, 80 percent want the government to spend significant effort working on them. Yet 76 percent say they have little or no confidence the government will make real progress.

But asked generally about the role of government in society, the AP-NORC Center poll finds Americans divided on how active they want government to be. Half say "the less government the better." However, almost as many (48 percent) say "there are more things that government should be doing."

On the economy, an area historically driven by the private sector, the poll finds a clear public desire for active government. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say "we need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems."

Even among those who say "the less government the better," 31 percent feel the nation needs a strong government to handle those complex problems.

Americans don't feel terribly optimistic about their own economic opportunities. Although 49 percent say their standard of living surpasses their parents', most are broadly pessimistic about the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. And they are mixed on whether people like them have a good chance to improve their standard of living.

Few are hopeful that the pieces are in place for the government to improve. About half are pessimistic about the country's ability to produce strong leaders generally. And 61 percent are pessimistic about the system of government overall and the way leaders are chosen.

Kathy Wooters of Houston's Kingwood community is among those who think the federal government should just get out of the way.

"We have too big of a government. I'd like it to be less in control of our lives," said Wooters, 57, a mother of four and grandmother of nine. "We are adults," she said. "We can make wise decisions with our money," rather than have the federal government dictate insurance choices and dole out more assistance to those who "want everything for free."

Wooters, a Republican and tea party supporter, said she taught her children to fend for themselves and avoid debt.

The AP-NORC Center poll was conducted online Dec. 12-16 among a random national sample of 1,141 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for all respondents.

The survey was conducted by GfK using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly, using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: http://www.apnorc.org

JUSTICE DELAYS HEALTH LAW'S BIRTH CONTROL MANDATE

Thursday, 02 January 2014 07:17 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has thrown a hitch into President Barack Obama's new health care law by blocking a requirement that some religion-affiliated organizations provide health insurance that includes birth control.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor late Tuesday night decided to block implementation of the contraceptive coverage requirement, only hours before the law's insurance coverage went into effect on New Year's Day.

Her decision, which came after federal court filings by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the nation in hopes of delaying the requirements, throws a part of the president's signature law into temporary disarray. At least one federal appeals court agreed with Sotomayor, issuing its own stay against part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The White House on Wednesday issued a statement saying that the administration is confident that its rules "strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage."

Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.

The government is "temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Sotomayor said in the order.

Sotomayor, who was in New York Tuesday night to lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to signal the descent of the Times Square New Year's Eve ball, gave government officials until 10 a.m. EST Friday to respond to her order. A decision on whether to make the temporary injunction permanent or dissolve it likely won't be made before then.

"The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people," said Mark Rienzi, a lawyer for the nuns. "It doesn't need to force nuns to participate."

Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women. That means the coverage is provided free of charge.

Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.

The requirement prompted an outcry from religious groups, which led the administration to try to craft a compromise. Under that compromise, insurers or health plan administrators must provide birth control coverage, and the religious institution itself is not responsible.

But the administration's compromise did not satisfy some critics, who called it a fig leaf.

The nuns would have to sign a form authorizing their insurance company to provide contraceptive coverage, which would still violate their beliefs, Rienzi said.

"Without an emergency injunction, Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire has to decide between two courses of action: (a) sign and submit a self-certification form, thereby violating her religious beliefs; or (b) refuse to sign the form and pay ruinous fines," Rienzi said.

The Little Sisters operate homes for the elderly poor in the United States and around the world. They were joined in their lawsuit by religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust.

Sotomayor's decision to delay the contraceptive portion of the law was joined by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which also issued an emergency stay for Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision, including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Catholic University.

But one judge on the three-judge panel that made the decision, Judge David S. Tatel, said he would have denied their motion.

"Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a `substantial burden' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal," Tatel said.

The archdiocese praised the appeals court's action in a statement.

"This action by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is in line with the rulings of courts all across the country which have held that the HHS mandate imposes a substantial and impermissible burden on the free exercise of religion," the archdiocese said. "These decisions also vindicate the pledge of the U.S. Catholic bishops to stand united in resolute defense of the first and most sacred freedom - religious liberty."

The Supreme Court already has decided to rule on whether businesses may use religious objections to escape a requirement to cover birth control for employees. That case, which involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees, is expected to be argued in March and decided by summer.

---

Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/JESSEJHOLLAND .

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

MARKETING EFFORTS TO UNINSURED YOUTH RAMP UP

Thursday, 02 January 2014 07:16 Published in Health & Fitness

MIAMI (AP) -- The so-called "young invincibles" are so important to the success of the Affordable Care Act that supporters and detractors are spending millions to reach them with racy ads, social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements. The president is even (gasp) asking their mothers to help convince them to sign up for insurance.

The federal government and states running their own exchanges have launched marketing efforts for this crucial demographic of healthy young adults, but it's unclear if the messages are getting through.

Eric Fisher, a 28-year-old from Salt Lake City, said he still hasn't seen any of the social media campaigns - one of which targets Utah residents with images of people snowboarding and rock climbing.

He tried to sign up online when the federal marketplace first launched but couldn't because of the long wait times and other website glitches. He said he'll try again at some point. He added that the historic health care overhaul isn't a topic he and his friends spend much time talking about.

"It's not like a coffee table conversation," Fisher said.

According to a recent Harvard survey, many of Fisher's peers are undecided.

A poll by Harvard's Institute of Politics shows about 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 are on the fence about whether to sign up, with the rest split fairly evenly between those likely to enroll and those who probably won't.

The survey of 2,000 young adults was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11, after the first month of enrollment on the health care exchanges and when sign-up problems were at their peak.

Consisting of healthy college students and twenty-somethings, the so-called "young invincible" demographic is the holy grail of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers need their participation to offset the costs of covering older, sicker Americans. If enough young people decide not to buy insurance through state or federal marketplaces, it could throw off the market's equilibrium and cause insurance rates to rise dramatically the following year.

Federal officials haven't released detailed demographic information on who's enrolled so far, so it's not clear how many young people have signed up.

Ad campaigns in many states are courting undecided young adults. In Colorado, a nonprofit group created a series of provocative "got insurance?" ads. One features a blonde standing next to a life-sized cut-out of celebrity heartthrob Ryan Gosling with the caption, "Hey girl, you're excited about easy access to birth control and I'm excited about getting to know you. She got insurance." Another touting "Brosurance" encourages men doing a keg stand not to tap into their beer money to cover medical bills. When the exchange launched, models wearing nothing but underwear and "Get Covered" signs passed out fliers in downtown Denver.

Arizona and Utah ads targeting weekend warriors and other athletes note the risks of getting hurt without health insurance.

Shmuel Johnson, who works in Los Angeles at a small sound studio, hasn't seen any ads or perused the state's health exchange.

"There's this elitist attitude that (politicians) think they know what's better for us than ourselves and that's part of why I take issue with this. I'm being forced to do something that's not necessarily in my best interest," said Johnson, a 31-year-old who's never had insurance. "I don't need insurance, man. I'm healthy."

He'll wait until March to enroll and says he'll select the cheapest, lowest-level of coverage available simply to avoid the fine. Experts expect many young adults, like Johnson, to wait until March.

In 2012, 18 million 19 to 34-year-olds lacked insurance - or 27 percent of all people in that age group, according to U.S. census data.

The Obama administration is making the rounds on college campuses to encourage people to sign up and has enlisted celebrities including Lady Gaga and Kerry Washington in its Get Covered social media campaign. Jennifer Hudson and Olivia Wilde were featured in skits pushing the Affordable Care Act on the humor website FunnyorDie.com. In the latest push, an Obama impersonator encourages young adults to tell their friends to get covered in an online rap.

The president himself recently told a group of mothers visiting the Oval Office that: "Moms can tell young people who think they're invincible that they're not and prod them to at least get information."

California state exchange officials even tried to persuade women to pay the first month's premium as a Christmas gift to their adult children and grandchildren.

Experts say engaging young invincibles requires a nuanced touch. They prefer to talk with their peers about pragmatic things they can do to impact the world, but aren't interested in ideological debates, said Morley Winograd, author of 3 books on millenials, including "Millenial Momentum."

But the cost of coverage will play the biggest role, experts say.

More than 3 million young adults have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act because they remained on their parents' health insurance, according to the feds. The law extended the age that children can stay on their parents' plan to 26.

Joshua Benson stayed on his parents' insurance until he turned 26 last year. After that, Benson, who had his pancreas removed and needs daily insulin for his Type 1 diabetes, struggled to find coverage. He was either denied or quoted $2,000 monthly premiums, said the South Florida resident, who works part-time as a grocery store cashier.

He recently enrolled in a platinum plan with no deductible that costs him $170 a month and even covers his endocrinologist. The federal government kicks in another $200 a month.

Benson says he was amused by the Funnyordie.com skits, but said many other ads "are focusing more on getting our attention than actually giving us any valid information."

On the other side of the aisle, groups that oppose the health overhaul such as Generation Opportunity are spreading their message at college tailgate parties. The organization gained a following after disturbing-by-design social media videos featuring a creepy Uncle Sam popping up at gynecological and proctology exams went viral. The tagline urged young adults to keep big government out of their personal health decisions.

The group's recent tailgate party at the University of Miami had all the markings of the South Beach club scene: hired glossy-haired models handing out swag, free alcohol and a sea of sweaty twenty-somethings bumping and grinding to a live DJ.

Mette Jensen, a 22-year-old student, says she supports "Obamacare" even though she signed a petition against it.

"Well, why not. I love free stuff."

--

Follow Kelli Kennedy on Twitter at WWW.TWITTER.COM/KKENNEDYAP

--

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Utah and Gillian Flaccus from Los Angeles contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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