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Support plummets for California health initiatives

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Support for a pair of health-related ballot initiatives is eroding, though a large portion of voters remain undecided eight weeks before the Nov. 4 election, according to the latest Field Poll.

Forty percent of likely voters say they would support Proposition 45, while 26 percent would vote against the initiative requiring health insurance rate changes to be approved by the state’s elected insurance commissioner. A growing proportion, 33 percent, are undecided.

When asked about Proposition 46, which would mandate random drug testing of doctors and quadruple the state’s $250,000 limit on medical malpractice awards, just 34 percent of voters say they are inclined to vote “yes” and 37 percent are preparing to vote “no.” Twenty-eight percent are undecided.

The pair enjoyed considerably more support earlier this summer.

“What’s really striking to me is the very large proportion of undecideds on both of these measures,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “What it says is that voters haven’t given much attention to it. They want to get more information.”

The poll was conducted last month just as the well-funded No on 46 campaign began blanketing the state with television and radio ads. Proponents are readying a supportive television spot featuring Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Meantime, the group opposing Proposition 45, backed by health insurers, recently launched its first radio ads and is expected to put ads on TV soon.

This is the second Field Poll to gauge voter support for the initiatives. A survey done in late June and early July found 69 percent backing Proposition 45 and 58 percent for Proposition 46.

DiCamillo noted that the first measures relied on a broader description of each initiative because the ballot label had not yet been released. The most recent poll described each initiative using language taken directly from the ballot label. On the drug testing and medical malpractice initiative, pollsters read the legislative analyst’s summary of its financial impact.

The first poll showed the concepts behind the measures as very appealing, DiCamillo said. “Now the rubber is meeting the road and they will have to vote for something specific.”

Proposition 45, the rate-regulation initiative, is favored nearly three to one by lower-income voters while households with annual incomes of at least $100,000 are evenly divided. It leads among Democrats and independents, but the support margin is narrower among Republicans, the poll found.

Proposition 46 is backed by a plurality of Democrats (37 percent support; 30 percent oppose and 33 percent undecided), but contested by Republicans to the tune of 45 percent to 28 percent. Voters who decline to specify a party preference are sharply divided. Similarly, households earning $40,000 or less support it by about two-to-one and their counterparts making $100,000 or more register their opposition at nearly two-to-one.

Poll respondent Fred Ward, 79, said with the federal Affordable Care Act mandating people to obtain health coverage, the state needs a means to regulate the rates insurers charge.

“Once (insurers) get their hands on something, they can control it, and you will see healthcare (premiums) go up,” said Ward, a Rocklin Republican.

Sue May Stillens, a county health worker from Sacramento who also was polled, said she was familiar with both initiatives but has yet to come to a conclusion on how she’ll vote.

“I think when the election gets closer I will probably pay more attention,” said Stillens, 38.

Still, she said she was leery of measures that pack multiple provisions into one initiative. In addition to doctor drug and alcohol testing and boosting the cap on pain and suffering damages to $1.1 million, Proposition 46 also requires a review of a prescription database before prescribing controlled substances.

“I don’t like it when there are multiple parts because if there was any part of it that I disagreed with I would vote no,” she said. “It seems to me that this is a way to slide things in and get them in under the radar. I think it should be more straightforward. I am naturally skeptical that a lot of it is misleading or lying.”

DiCamillo said history suggests that when a ballot measure goes negative it rarely goes back, particularly when there is a large, well-funded opposition campaign.

“It’s a rare proposition that moves from the ‘no’ side to ‘yes,’ ” he said, “and it usually involves voter confusion as to what a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means.”

Added DiCamillo: “When I look at Prop. 46, it looks to me the odds are against it.”

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