A majority of Americans think health-care reform is more important than cutting taxes, even though it's nowhere to be found on the priority list of the new Republican Congress, pollster Frank Luntz said.

Luntz, pollster for the House GOP's "Contract With America," also said fewer than one in five Americans believes the health-care system should be kept "basically the same," while 52 percent want it "reformed" and 28 percent say it should be "radically changed."Luntz conducted the poll of 1,000 adults for the Healthcare Leadership Council, which represents some of the biggest corporate players in the health-care system, including insurance giant Aetna, the Merck pharmaceutical company and The Mayo Clinic. The survey was conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1.

Health-care reform was No. 5 on the public's priority list, Luntz said, behind crime, welfare reform, the economy and cutting government spending but ahead of the tax cuts emphasized in the GOP's legislative program.

The poll also found that by a narrow margin, the public blames the GOP for the failure of the reform process during the past two years and was disappointed that no legislation passed. By 44 percent to 32 percent, the public now wants Republicans rather than President Clinton to take the lead on the issue.

At the same time, however, the survey suggests that the public is pessimistic about the chances for meaningful action. With Republicans in control, only 15 percent think there is an "excellent" or "good" chance for enactment of health-care legislation in the new Congress, while 85 percent call the chances "fair" or "poor."

What that suggests for congressional Republicans, Luntz said, "is an opportunity to confound expectations."

The poll found that 70 percent of Americans want universal access to health insurance, compared with 30 percent who want the government to guarantee universal coverage.

Luntz said the public's top priority, supported by 87 percent of those surveyed, is: "An ability to carry your health insurance from one job to another; a guarantee of your ability to keep your health insurance if you lost your job; (and) a guarantee that you or a family member could not be turned down by a health insurance company because of a pre-existing condition or illness."