After years of spirited debate over Obamacare, a majority of Californians remain steadfast in their support of the vast and complex health care program, a new Field Poll released Tuesday found.

Bay Are residents are the strongest enthusiasts in the state, with 66 percent endorsing the Affordable Care Act, a bold experiment to give more Americans health insurance through the private market. It requires most Americans carry health insurance or face tax penalties.

Statewide, support is more tepid, with 53 percent in favor, 25 percent opposed and the rest undecided, the poll found. These numbers haven't budged in the past three years, despite ongoing national debate over the issue.

"It gives us way more choice," said Chris Acker, 50, of Palo Alto, an insurance broker, small business owner and family man who has supported the plan since its inception.

Minor medical issues -- such as sleep apnea in his daughter, a nationally ranked freestyle swimmer on UC-Berkeley's varsity team -- have restricted his family's coverage options. Under the new law, plans can't reject people with pre-existing conditions, "so if we find a better plan, we can now go to it," he said. "We are not tied to a group."

Voters' familiarity with the plan has increased only slightly since 2011, the poll found. Many Californians (60 percent) say they have some knowledge about the plan, up slightly from 53 percent. Those who have little or no knowledge about the program has decreased from 35 percent to 24 percent.


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While most people -- insured through their employer or through Medicare or the military -- won't see much change, people with low incomes will be able to get benefits for the first time through Medicaid. Those who buy their own insurance, or who do not have coverage, will also see change.

The key test comes Oct. 1, when insurance marketplaces open for enrollment. These marketplaces will be websites where people can compare and shop for health insurance coverage effective in January. People will also be able to find out if they qualify for subsidies to reduce their costs or whether they're eligible for MediCal, the state program for the poor.

About 20 percent of Californians are uninsured. Of those with insurance, 45 percent get it through their employer; 19 percent, MediCal; 10 percent, Medicare and 6 percent, individual plans.

To help consumers, 125 health centers in California have been awarded a total of $22 million to hire "navigators" to guide those shopping for health coverage in the new insurance marketplace. Private insurance brokers can also receive training.

Several features of the plan have run into delays in recent months. Some insurers and employers now have until 2015 to cap the amount consumers can be charged through deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance. Another mandate, that all employers with more than 50 employees provide coverage to their workers, also is postponed until 2015.

The poll found differences in support based on political allegiances, with Democrats and liberals endorsing the plan, while Republicans and conservatives are opposed. Among the strongly liberal, 90 percent support the law. Among strong conservative, 83 percent oppose it.

Opinions also vary based on age and ethnicity. Californians younger than 30 support it, while seniors older than 65 are evenly divided. Among white voters, slightly more oppose it (49 percent) than support it (44 percent). But Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans are soundly supportive.

Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.

ONLINE HELP:
To apply, shop for coverage or enroll: www.healthcare.gov/
Spanish-language version: www.cuidadodesalud.gov/es/

HEALTH CENTERS OFFER ASSISTANCE:
In California, 125 health centers have been awarded $22 million dollars to assist people with enrollment through the state's new health insurance exchange. (Private insurance brokers can also help.) In the Bay Area, these clinics are:
Berkeley: Lifelong Medical Care
East Palo Alto: South County Community Health Center
Oakland: County of Alameda, Asian Health Services, Children's Hospital, La Clinica De La Raza and West Oakland Health Council
San Jose: School Health Clinics, County of Santa Clara, San Jose Foothills Family Community Clinic, Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, Gardiner Family Health Network
San Mateo: County of San Mateo
Santa Cruz: Women's Health Center, County of Santa Cruz
For additional locations: www.hrsa.gov/about/news/2013tables/outreachandenrollment/ca.html