With less than two months until open enrollment begins for health care coverage under Obamacare, half of Californians say they are paying more for health care coverage this year than last, and half also say that their coverage is difficult to afford, a new Field Poll released Monday found.
Californians also appear to like the government health programs already in place: 79 percent -- including 84 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans -- say Medicare is a success in meeting its goals. And 64 percent of Californians say that Medi-Cal, the joint federal and state program that provides health insurance and long-term care to low-income adults and children, is a success.
But, the poll found, health care costs are hitting some Californians hard.
"The populations who are saying that are those you'd expect -- lower income residents, uninsured people," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "They are the ones most likely to be having difficulties in paying for health care."
Fifty percent of the registered voters sampled said their health care costs are "very" or "somewhat difficult" for them to afford. That compared with 47 percent who reported "little" or "no difficulty" in paying for health care.
The findings are part of a new report published by the Field Research Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan firm based in San Francisco. The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent, questioned 1,687 registered California voters in seven languages with a grant from the California Wellness Foundation. The respondents mirrored the state's demographic and ideological makeup.
Overall, the poll found 50 percent of California voters said their health care costs increased this year compared with last year. Another 41 percent said they are paying about the same, while 5 percent said their health costs declined. The remaining 4 percent said they didn't know.
Those findings track with studies of actual health care costs.
Nationwide, health coverage premium costs rose 4 percent in 2012 for employer-sponsored insurance plans, with workers paying on average $4,316 a year for family coverage, according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 2,000 U.S. employers. A decade ago, health care premiums were rising at more than double the rate they are now. In 2003, premiums went up 13 percent; in 2004, they jumped 10 percent.
Kaiser Foundation experts said the rough economy in recent years was the likely cause, noting that when wages are flat many people avoid using the health care system. Although the slow growth in costs last year was good news, the 4 percent increase still was nearly double the 2.3 percent inflation rate.
On Oct. 1, health care exchanges under Obamacare, officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will begin enrolling new members. The exchanges are marketplaces for people to buy insurance from private companies. They are run either by states, or the federal government in the states that chose not to set up their own.
Nearly 5 million Californians will be able to buy insurance through the marketplace -- including 1.6 million uninsured residents who will be eligible for subsidized policies and thousands who have been denied coverage because of health issues.
The 85 percent of Californians who already have private insurance through their employers or who receive Medicare will not need to buy insurance through the new exchanges.
In California, Anthem Blue Cross of California, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser Permanente and a group of smaller regional providers will offer plans through the exchanges. All of the plans must include maternity and newborn care, mental health services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and pediatric care.
Under the law, most Americans will be required to have health insurance by March 31, 2014, or pay a penalty, which starts at $95 per person or 1 percent of income in 2014 (whichever is higher) and rises to $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income by 2016.
People who make less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level -- or about $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four -- will be eligible for subsidies and tax breaks. Illegal immigrants are not eligible to buy insurance through the exchanges.
For more information, go to the state's Covered California website, www.coveredca.com