Californians have their doubts about healthcare law

Californians are more supportive of President Obama's healthcare law than the country at large, but they still worry it will raise healthcare costs and hurt the economy, a new poll of registered voters shows.

Statewide, 50% said they backed the Affordable Care Act and 42% opposed it, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. That runs counter to national polls that show more people disapprove of Obamacare than support it.

Latinos, who make up about half of California's uninsured population, were even more enthusiastic, supporting the healthcare law by a 2-1 margin. Forty-nine percent of whites were opposed, with 44% in favor.

Predictably, 77% of Democrats backed the president's healthcare plan, whereas 80% of Republicans surveyed said they were against it. Independents were more evenly split.

Cutting across partisan and racial lines, Californians as a whole were skeptical that the Affordable Care Act would live up to its name.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said people wouldn't be able to afford the health insurance they'll be required to have under the law's individual mandate. Forty percent think the program will have a negative effect on what they pay for coverage, compared with 21% who expect a positive outcome.

According to the survey, 46% of registered voters expect the Affordable Care Act to be a drag on the overall economy and 34% see an economic boost. Nearly 60% think the law's new requirements will raise healthcare costs and keep businesses from hiring more workers.

The poll was taken just as the national healthcare rollout was coming under intense criticism in Congress, even from some Democrats. Obama has apologized for the malfunctioning healthcare.gov enrollment website and for millions of Americans receiving cancellation notices because their current coverage doesn't meet all the requirements of the healthcare law.

Those consumers have directed much of their anger at Obama's repeated pledge that Americans could keep their existing insurance if they liked it.

California is running its own insurance exchange, as are 13 other states, and its online enrollment hasn't experienced nearly as many problems as the federal marketplace for 36 states. But the sticker shock from higher premiums and concerns about losing access to preferred doctors and hospitals have taken a toll.

"California has had a pretty good rollout on its exchange compared to the national one, but people here are still feeling the negative repercussions of higher costs and lost policies," said David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican firm that helped conduct the poll for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and The Times.

The poll was conducted jointly by American Viewpoint and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic polling firm in Washington. They surveyed 1,503 registered state voters by telephone Oct. 30-Nov. 5. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, and larger for subgroups.

For Obama and his signature law, much depends on Californians embracing the changes. California wants to enroll more than 2 million people by the end of next year in subsidized health insurance or an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for the poor.

Poll respondents said they were upbeat about the law's potential to help many of the state's 7 million uninsured. Sixty-five percent expect there will be fewer people without coverage and 67% think patients will get more access to checkups and other preventive care.

"Fundamentally, Californians are viewing the Affordable Care Act as a mixed bag," said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. "They harbor real concerns about the potential negative impact on costs and the economy."

Diana Sackett, 61, a software engineer in Pleasanton, has many of those worries even though she strongly supports the president's healthcare plan. She has battled cancer in the past and knows the value of quality health coverage. "In an advanced country like ours, everyone should be able to get the healthcare they need," Sackett said.

But she isn't optimistic that the healthcare law will stem the rising costs of medical care and fears it may even get worse with an influx of newly insured patients.

"I'm concerned it won't really address the cost problems," said Sackett, who pays for health insurance through her employer. "I think healthcare is still going to be pretty expensive."

According to the poll, the changes are being implemented at a time when voters are generally satisfied with their own healthcare. Ninety percent of respondents said they were happy with the quality of their medical care and access to their doctors.

The state's health insurance exchange, Covered California, also faces deep skepticism among its core audience.

Even uninsured Californians, who stand to benefit the most from the changes, were split. Forty-eight percent favored the law while 45% were against.

Individuals who now purchase their own policies were more negative. Forty-nine percent were opposed to the law and 44% said they were in favor.

Kathryn Davis, 29, an unemployed lab technician in San Diego, already had her doubts about Obamacare. Then she received a cancellation notice from her insurer, joining an estimated 1 million Californians who have received similar termination letters in recent weeks.

"It makes me angry I will be forced to purchase a new policy I don't want, and fined if I don't," she said.

Davis said she paid $130 a month for a Blue Shield of California policy. On the state exchange, she saw a mid-level Silver plan from Blue Shield that would cost her $96 a month thanks to a federal subsidy of $187 a month based on her income.

Her annual deductible would decrease, and the coverage would be more comprehensive, including benefits such as maternity care. Even though it may be a better deal for her, Davis said she feared government spending on insurance subsidies would trigger huge tax increases.

California exchange officials say they are ramping up their marketing campaign this month to better explain the new insurance options and address some of the criticisms. People must enroll by Dec. 15 if they want coverage Jan. 1. Open enrollment in the exchange runs through March 31.

In the poll, 42% of respondents said they still didn't have enough information about the healthcare law. Statewide, 50% of Latinos said they didn't know enough about the overhaul.

Federico del Castillo, a 51-year-old Bellflower resident, said he couldn't afford health insurance for himself while he searched for a new job in sales. His wife has coverage through her job, and his three young daughters are enrolled in a low-cost government program for children.

He said he'd heard about all the glitches with Obamacare, but he hoped it would make coverage affordable for him. He hears a lot of conflicting information about the program from neighbors and friends at church.

"Everyone is so confused," Del Castillo said. "I don't think most people are getting all the information they need."

chad.terhune@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadterhune

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