WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Few Americans would support major cuts to Medicare to reduce the federal deficit, but many would be okay with minor savings in the popular healthcare program, a survey released on Thursday said.
The latest tracking survey on healthcare issues by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the public is more willing to accept Medicare spending cuts if done to shore up the elderly healthcare program rather than for deficit reduction or avoiding tax increases.
The survey's findings are important because the future of Medicare is at the heart of high level discussions over the $1.4 trillion annual deficit and $14.3 trillion U.S. debt.
Congressional Republicans want cuts to Medicare and other health and welfare programs as part of a deficit-reduction package they say is needed to secure their support for an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt limit.
Democrats balk at including Medicare cuts as long as Republicans refuse to accept revenue increases.
The Kaiser survey found that the public's willingness to accept Medicare spending cuts varied with how the savings would be used.
Thirty-two percent of those polled said they would back major cuts if the money was used to prevent Medicare from going bankrupt, 42 percent said they would accept minor changes to keep the program solvent, while 21 percent said they would support no program reductions for that purpose.
When asked about Medicare cuts to reduce the federal deficit, 18 percent said they would back major cuts, while 45 percent said they would be okay with minor cuts. Thirty-three percent said they oppose any Medicare spending cuts for deficit reduction, the survey said.
A similar number, 32 percent, said they do not support cutting Medicare to avoid tax increases. Forty-three percent said they would be okay with minor cuts, while 20 percent said they backed major Medicare cuts to avoid tax increases.
When it came to avoiding tax increases for the wealthy, 40 percent said they would not back Medicare cuts. Thirty-three percent said they would support minor Medicare spending reductions, while 21 percent said they were okay with major Medicare spending cuts to avoid raising taxes on the wealthy.
Overall, the survey found that the public prefers spending cuts over tax increases as the main approach to deficit reduction.
Kaiser said the survey of 1,203 adults was conducted June 9 through June 14 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Philip Barbara)