Capitol Alert Breaking

Californians increasingly keen on boosting health care for unauthorized immigrants

Nurse practitioner Blen Abdi prepares a second set of injections for her patient at the Minute Clinic CVS location in Pentagon City in Arlington, Va.
Nurse practitioner Blen Abdi prepares a second set of injections for her patient at the Minute Clinic CVS location in Pentagon City in Arlington, Va. McClatchy

California voters’ support for extending health care coverage to people in the state illegally is gaining ground, according to the latest Field Poll.

The survey found that 58 percent of registered voters favor providing Medi-Cal to all of the state’s undocumented residents while 39 percent oppose. Last year, only a slight majority – 51 percent – favored the idea, while 45 percent opposed.

And in a year largely bereft of statewide electioneering, approval of the 5-year-old federal health care overhaul continues its upward march.

Though Obamacare still divides voters along party lines – with Democrats supportive and Republicans opposed – it is now for the first time backed by majorities of voters in every major region of the state; along with all age groups, races and ethnicities. Opinions of the law improved most among Latinos, adults in their late teens and 20s, and residents of Los Angeles County.

“We are moving further away from perceptions about what the law has done and toward how it actually works,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “The initial fears that some people had that it would hurt them have dissipated a bit.”

Overall, some 63 percent say the state’s Medi-Cal program is important to them and their families. Meanwhile, expanding Medi-Cal coverage for unauthorized immigrants has emerged as a priority for some Democratic lawmakers even as Gov. Jerry Brown and others have expressed reservations about the projected cost. Under the budget deal forged by Brown and the Legislature, the state is extending Medi-Cal to children under 19 regardless of their legal status.

“Democrats seem to be warming to that idea more and more,” DiCamillo said of offering Medi-Cal to all.

Separately, a bill seeking a federal waiver for unauthorized immigrants to obtain health insurance through the state exchange could be taken up this week by the Assembly’s fiscal committee. New enrollees would not be allowed to receive subsidies to defray the cost of their plans.

The Affordable Care Act’s supporters outnumber opponents nearly 2-to-1, 62 percent to 33 percent. Democrats approve of the law 85 percent to 11 percent. For 51-year-old poll respondent Kate Maher of Magalia, in Butte County, “acquiring health insurance was imperative” after being on and off various plans since 2001. The law allowed her to get better, more consistent health care, Maher said, noting she has diabetes and can’t be denied coverage.

Maher said she’s out of work, so government subsidies help cover much of her monthly premium payments. She said she doesn’t think everybody should get a “free ride,” but for those like her who physically cannot hold down jobs, Obamacare has been something of a safety net, even though “it’s not perfect.”

“We will get though the stumbles, and I think we largely have,” Maher said of the negligible hitches she experienced. “It is just going to get better and better.”

Republicans unsurprisingly remain its staunchest opponents, 68 percent to 25 percent. Respondent Stephanie Griffin, a retired schoolteacher from Redding, said she strongly opposes the law based on the experiences of friends and neighbors.

People are still experiencing financial hardships and filing for bankruptcy because they can’t afford to pay for medical coverage, said Griffin, 71. She said the overhaul has not made coverage affordable enough.

Griffin said a former student of hers enrolled in the state’s health insurance exchange has had trouble gaining access to physicians. And Griffin added that another patient she knows said they were scolded by a doctor for asking about a second ailment during an appointment.

“Obamacare has made people’s lives more difficult,” she said.

Still, a growing majority of voters in the poll, sponsored by the California Wellness Foundation, think the state has successfully executed the law, with upbeat assessments about its implementation cutting across party lines. Californians also largely agree (74 percent to 22 percent) with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling upholding the law’s subsidies. Now, nearly a 2-1 majority believe its major provisions likely will remain on the books in perpetuity.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago