Less than a month remains until enrollment opens for California's mandated affordable health care program for the millions statewide who are uninsured, and officials and community-based organizations are still scrambling to scratch the surface of outreach efforts.
Applications begin Oct. 1, with implementation Jan. 1, but the message has reached only about 10 to 15 percent of people in need, estimated Jen Lee, community services director for Asian Health Services in Oakland.
"I think people are still kind of clueless," she said. "They may have heard about Obamacare, but it's just going to take time. In the next two years, we'll see a difference. Now, even advocates are struggling to articulate it."
A survey conducted by the Field Poll last month revealed that at least two-thirds of California voters don't know much about the federal Affordable Care Act, which is commonly called Obamacare and aims to increase the number of Americans with insurance and cut overall health care costs.
California was the first state to enact legislation, called Covered California. The online health insurance marketplace allows legally documented residents to buy coverage that cannot be denied or canceled for people with pre-existing conditions.
Covered California awarded $43 million in federal grants to community-based organizations to promote public awareness and train educators in more than a dozen languages. Of the nine grants awarded in San Francisco, four specifically target Asian Pacific Islanders, who make up 14 percent of uninsured Californians projected to be eligible for subsidies. In San Francisco, that would be 11,000 people.
"We are beefing up our outreach and education in the Asian Pacific Islander population in the San Francisco Bay Area because we've heard demand for materials and education, as well as outreach to all languages," said Covered California spokeswoman Anne Gonzales.
The Mayor's Office is working to identify up to 70 organizations to target the Asian community and also is working with state Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who has been advocating for implementation in ethnic communities.
Starting Jan. 1, uninsured Californians will have to have Covered California, expanded MediCal or insurance through a county program, or pay $95 or 1 percent of their annual income in 2014 and $695 or 2.5 percent of their annual income by 2016.
Critics have questioned the affordability of health care reform, and they also point to concerns that insurance rates will go up for those who are already covered and small businesses will be forced to pay to insure employees.
"This is a significant change likened to ushering in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," Gonzales said.