Many California residents will qualify for new health care options when
the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January, but a large chunk of them still
don't understand even the basics of the law and how it might apply to them.
In a new Field Poll of California voters released Tuesday, nearly a quarter of respondents reported they were either not at all or not very knowledgeable of the Affordable Care Act's features. Just 15 percent of those polled reported being very knowledgeable -- only a slight increase from 11 percent in a 2011 poll.
The poll is the latest to underscore one of the major challenges facing the state in the coming months: educating a largely uninformed public on the particulars of a complex law.
"When you're talking about a complicated piece of public policy, it's very difficult to get your hands around it," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "That's asking a lot of people."
The Affordable Care Act kicks off on Jan. 1, when most Americans will be required to obtain health insurance. The state insurance exchange, called Covered California, will open for signups on Oct. 1.
The Field Poll, in addition to finding so many Californians lacking basic information about the law, also highlighted the degree to which misconceptions persist. For example, 57 percent of those polled said seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare likely will see their benefits reduced under the Affordable Care Act. Even among respondents who described themselves as "very knowledgeable," 59 percent said Medicare benefits would decrease.
In fact, benefits for people on Medicare will not be affected by the law. "A lot of it hasn't started affecting people in their day-to-day lives, and they don't know what's going to happen," said Mollyann Brodie, senior vice president for public and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "The law has been seen through purely a political lens."
Major efforts to market the Affordable Care Act in the state have not yet begun. Covered California, which will spend millions to market the exchange, plans to ramp up outreach efforts next month.
Judi Morales, 46, of Vallejo, is self-employed and uninsured. Four years ago, she survived bladder cancer. This year, when she went for a routine annual cancer screening, she said she left the doctor's office without the test after finding out it would cost her $2,500, far more than she could afford.
A single mom who makes about $35,000 a year, Morales is interested in purchasing affordable insurance and likely will be eligible for tax credits through Covered California. Yet she hasn't heard anything about the state exchange.
"I have no idea about costs or deadlines, I just know that it's going to be mandatory," she said. "I guess I'm going to have to do some research."
The Field Poll found that 53 percent of California voters support the law, a majority that has remained consistent. That support, though, is deeply divided along partisan lines, as well as by age and ethnicity. In the Bay Area and Los Angeles County, the law is supported by more than 2 to 1.
The poll, which was funded by the California Wellness Foundation, surveyed 1,687 registered voters in seven languages by phone, the majority interviewed between June 26 and July 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
Kristen V. Brown is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kristenvbrown
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