Assembly Committee Approves Universal Health Coverage Bill
The Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday voted 12-5 to approve a bill (SB 921) that would create a state-run universal health insurance system, the AP/Orange County Register reports (Lawrence, Orange County Register, 6/24). The bill was first introduced in August 2003 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) and passed a Senate vote last year. The legislation has since been stalled in the Assembly (California Healthline, 8/7/03). Kuehl says the bill would reduce prescription drug and administrative costs by $330 billion over 10 years. The program would be headed by an elected commissioner and funded by health care income and payroll taxes. In the first two years of the program, patient deductibles and copayments would be eliminated. Subsequently, annual payments would be limited to $250 for individuals and $500 for families. According to Kuehl, the bill would expand health insurance to about seven million state residents who currently lack coverage.
According to the Register, opponents of the measure "questioned whether the bill would generate the savings claimed." California Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Trudi Hughes said that the bill does not address the underlying costs of health care, according to the Register. She added, "We believe we can fix the existing system by identifying and addressing current health care (cost) drivers." Bill Wehrle, a lobbyist for the California Association of Health Plans, said the bill would result in "some amount of administrative savings" but added that those savings would not counter losses incurred by removing the "competitive marketplace."
Kuehl said that the bill likely would not reach Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) this year, in part because it lacks a final cost report, the Register reports. She said, "It's not the case in California that we are not spending enough money to cover every Californian." Kuehl added, "We are already spending plenty of money in the aggregate, twice as much per person as the other industrialized countries. The problem is the spending is grossly inefficient." According to the Register, Kuehl said the vote demonstrated bicameral support for a state-run universal health care system and that, if the bill is defeated, she would reintroduce it in 2005 (Orange County Register, 6/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.