New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram
The poll, released at ethnic media briefings in Southern California, was commissioned by New America Media and sponsored by The California Endowment. it was conducted by pollsters Bendixen & Amandi and FM3.
The poll surveyed a total of 200 African Americans and 700 Asian Americans in Korean, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese as well as English. Latino adults were polled separately by FM3.
The polls found that 55 percent of African Americans, 64 percent of Asian Americans and 69 percent of Latinos had not heard anything about the new law. But despite the lack of knowledge, most ethnic Californians said they thought the law would have a positive impact on their lives.
That may be because ethnic adults face the greatest disparities when it comes to health coverage, according to Dr. Cara V. James, a senior policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Race, Ethnicity and Health Care Group in Washington, D.C. She addressed nearly 30 representiatives from ethnic media at Sept. 8 news briefings in Los Angeles and Orange County.
According to James, while 65 percent of Americans get their health insurance through their employers, more than half of the uninsured in the United States are people of color.
Among Asians, Korean Americans have the lowest rate of employer-based insurance coverage (49 percent), while Indians have the highest (77 percent).
But as provisions in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) kick in, some of those inequalities will likely diminish, James said.
James and her fellow panelist, Dr. Elisa Nicholas, provided a kind of Health Care Reform 101 to demystify the complicated new law signed by President Obama in March to ensure that every American has health insurance. According to new Census figures, an all-time high 50.7 million people are uninsured in the United States, or 16.7 percent of Americans.
“This is the first time ever that we’re going to have a national quality strategy,” James said, noting that the PPACA, set to be fully implemented by 2014, will expand health coverage, reduce health care costs, improve health care quality and expand the health care workforce.
Key provisions of the new law include:
• An expansion in Medicaid, which will allow almost one in five Asians to receive coverage through the program.
• An end to the practice by insurers of denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
• A ban on the current practice of charging different premiums based on health status.
• Creation of a so-called health exchange or marketplace, where people can purchase insurance from a pool of insurance companies.
• An increase in federal funding for qualified community health centers.
• A requirement that all insurance companies offer plans providing preventive care.
"For the first time, we’re going to have a health care system rather than a sick care system,” James said, adding: “Coverage expansions included in the bill will likely have a huge impact on communities of color, for whom this is a big step.”
A key provision in the law mandating increased funding to qualified community health clinics, more than half of whose clients are people of color, James said.
Nicholas, chief executive officer of The Children’s Clinic in Long Beach, Calif., said almost 90 percent of her patients are people of color, with the largest portion of them being Latinos and Cambodians.
Drawing upon her own experience, when she tried unsuccessfully to buy insurance for her child with a disability, Nicholas said she welcomed the provision in PPACA that bans providers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
The health care reform law is also expected to benefit some 16.6 million small businesses nationwide, starting this year.
At the Orange County briefing, small business owner Liz Parker shared the story of her struggle to keep her 16 or so employees insured over the last 29 years in the face of runaway increases in the cost of premiums.
“What insurance companies are doing to us is unconscionable,” Parker said. “We’re dying under the heft of the costs. . . . This [new law] is needed.”
The new law will not require small businesses such as hers to provide health insurance, but does require businesses with 50 or more employees to offer health plans, James said.
But as an incentive to offer health insurance, small businesses will be eligible for tax credits under the new law, from up to 35 percent of the employer’s premium contribution to up to 50 percent.
To prevent arbitrary hikes in insurance premiums, providers will have to publicly justify unreasonable rate increases. The Obama administration has yet to release guidelines on what constitutes “unreasonable” increases.
The briefings were organized by New America Media, with funding from The California Endowment, which also sponsored the polls.