Assembly Panel OKs Democrats’ Health Care Overhaul Proposal
On Wednesday, the Assembly Health Committee approved a revised health care reform proposal (ABX1 1) by Democratic legislative leaders, setting the stage for a final vote on an overhaul plan this month, the Sacramento Bee reports. The plan received no votes from Republican committee members (Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 11/15).
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) unveiled the plan last week. The plan more closely resembles Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) health care plan than an earlier Democratic proposal did, but differences remain over employer contributions and how to finance the proposed coverage expansion.
The Democrats favor a tobacco tax increase of $2 per pack, while the governor has proposed leasing the state lottery to a private operator.
The funding mechanism would be packaged as a ballot initiative that would go before voters in the November 2008 election (California Healthline, 11/14).
Jennifer Kent, associate secretary of legislative affairs for the Department of Health Care Services, said Schwarzenegger also remains concerned over the Democrats' provision to exempt some residents from the individual coverage mandate.
On Nov. 26, the full Assembly will vote on the Democrats' health care reform plan.
Núñez said, "We're making considerable progress, and I expect we're going to get a deal." He added that setting a voting date before a compromise has been reached shows "how strongly we feel we're going to get it done."
Opponents of the Democrats' plan at Wednesday's hearing included the California Nurses Association and the California Restaurant Association. The restaurant group argued that employer contributions would hurt businesses with a large amount of workers but small profit margins.
Also concerned that the plan would hurt businesses, Republican committee members questioned whether the revenue sources of the plan could cover rising health care costs.
The committee rejected Assembly Republicans' reform proposal (ABX1 8). It would have provided tax incentives for purchasing health insurance and an option to obtain out-of-state coverage (Sacramento Bee, 11/15).
Meanwhile, rising concerns about California's projected budget deficit is putting pressure on Schwarzenegger and Democrats to consider spending cuts and tax increases in the midst of trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
In a report released Wednesday, the Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that California's budget deficit will reach almost $10 billion over the next two years (Harmon/Sheppard, San Jose Mercury News, 11/15).
The governor contends that overhauling California's health care system would provide a boost to the economy, but critics of the governor's health plan argue that the proposal could exacerbate the budget deficit (Mendel, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/15).
On Wednesday, the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County held a meeting to discuss Schwarzenegger's health care plan, the San Bernardino County Sun reports.
Kathleen Webb, director of the Office of the Insurance Adviser, took note of recommendations from black health experts and professionals at the meeting.
Suggestions included more culturally sensitive health care providers and a separate revenue source for addressing health issues in the black community.
Webb said some of the recommendations will be worked into the governor's proposal (Sorba, San Bernardino County Sun, 11/14).
Summaries of opinion pieces regarding the health care reform debate in California appear below.
- George Skelton, Los Angeles Times: "If I were advising the governor ... I'd tell him to pull the plug on health care reform" and "announce that he has given it his best effort for the past year," Skelton writes in his "Capitol Journal" column for the Times. Schwarzenegger now must "focus on a genuine crisis of pending bankruptcy," according to Skelton. "Nothing really can be done to improve the lives of Californians until state government becomes fiscally sound," Skelton writes (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 11/15).
- Michael Russo, San Diego Union-Tribune: "A tobacco tax is the right way to break the negotiating stalemate and fully fund the comprehensive health care reform that California needs," Russo, a health care advocate and attorney at CALPIRG, writes in a Union-Tribune opinion piece. "It's true that over time, reducing smoking will also decrease the revenue brought in by the tax. But those budget losses will be balanced by savings, because nonsmokers tend to be healthier and spend less money on medical care than smokers," according to Russo (Russo, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/15).
Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Thursday reported on the committee vote. The segment includes comments from Núñez (O'Mara, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 11/15).
A transcript and audio of the segment are available online.