Californians still support federal health law

Support for federal health reform in California remains as strong today as it was a year ago despite attacks from the new majority of Republicans in Congress and federal court decisions declaring the law unconstitutional, according to a new, independent poll released today.

The survey by the Field Poll found that 52 percent of registered voters in California support the law while 37 percent oppose it. That margin is almost identical to what it was one year ago, shortly after the then-Democratic Congress and President Obama enacted the law. The poll of 1,194 people has a margin of error of 2.9 percent in either direction.

“There really hasn’t been much change,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, which conducted the survey on behalf of the non-profit California Wellness Foundation. “Californians are much more supportive of the law than the public is nationally.”

The law envisions a mix of public and private initiatives to expand access to health insurance for almost all legal residents. It requires people to buy insurance if they can afford it, subsidizes those who cannot, and offers tax credits to small businesses to help them buy coverage for their workers.

The measure also intensifies the government’s oversight of the insurance industry, requiring carriers to offer family coverage to children until age 26 and eventually eliminating the ability of insurance companies to deny people coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions. The law will also create statewide, online health exchanges were individuals and small business owners can comparison shop for coverage, with standard benefit levels determined by the state.

Republicans, who took over the House of Representatives in last year’s elections, have said they will try to repeal the law or block its implementation. Two federal courts, meanwhile, have ruled that the mandate requiring people to buy insurance violates the Commerce clause of the Constitution.

But Californians still like the law. Thirty-one percent say they support it “strongly” and 21 percent support it “somewhat.” On the other side, 28 percent oppose the bill strongly and 9 percent oppose it somewhat.

Support for the law is highly polarized along partisan lines. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats support it, compared to just 19 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of independent voters.

There is also a split based on race and ethnicity. While just 36 percent of white non-Hispanic voters support he law, 65 percent of Hispanics, 70 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Asians back the measure.

Since California has more Democrats and more Hispanics than most states, that demographic breakdown explains most of the difference between Californians support for the law and polls showing that fewer than half of Americans think it is a good idea.

How Californians view the law depends in part on how much they think they know about it. And the more people think they know about the measure, the less they say they like it. Among people who say they are “very knowledgeable” about the law, just 41 percent support it and 57 percent oppose it. But among those who say they are “somewhat knowledgeable” about the law, 56 percent support it and 39 percent oppose it.

But Californians may not know as much about the law as they think they do. Thirty six percent, for example, say they think illegal immigrants will be better off once they law is implemented, even though the law specifically excludes them from gaining coverage under its provisions, even if they can pay for it themselves.

Those surveyed also say that they think low-income residents, the uninsured, children and young adults will benefit from the law. Pluralities say they think that doctors, hospitals, business, insurance companies, and upper-income people will be made worse off by the law.

Californians are evenly divided on what they think Congress should do about the law, with 40 percent saying it should be repealed and 39 percent saying Congress should expand it. Thirteen percent say leave it as it is.

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