California Health Care Reform Could Rely on Voter Approval
As the Legislature gets set to adjourn this week, a compromise on a health care reform plan over the next several days appears unlikely, setting the stage for a special legislative session and statewide ballot measure to determine its fate, the New York Times reports (Sack, New York Times, 9/9).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) received a boost to his health care overhaul plan last week when the California Hospital Association agreed to his proposal that would have hospitals pay 4% of revenue to help cover the cost of his reform plan.
However, because Republicans remain opposed to tax or fee increases, the agreement likely would be put to voters in a ballot initiative in November 2008.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) signaled last week that his reform bill, AB 8, also would be contingent on a ballot measure in 2008. The measure was co-authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland).
Mandatory employer contributions would provide the bulk of funding for the plan, but the remaining 25% could depend on voter approval (California Healthline, 9/7).
Steven Maviglio, spokesperson for Núñez, said both houses are expected to pass AB 8 early this week, expecting Schwarzenegger to veto the bill and call a special legislative session to continue the debate (New York Times, 9/9).
Before a ballot measure is drafted, lawmakers and Schwarzenegger must settle several differences, including a proposal by the governor to require all residents to obtain insurance. Democrats contend that an insurance mandate would be costly for moderate-income residents who would not qualify for state subsidies.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the California Field Poll, said voters are more likely to approve a plan that narrowly targets a population rather than a plan calling for broad tax increases, such as a sales tax, that affect everyone. He added, "The more people that are included, the higher levels of opposition because it affects their own pocketbook" (Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 9/8).
The California Retailers Association, California Restaurant Association and California Small Business Association are pushing for a ballot initiative that would increase the sales tax by one cent to help pay for health care reform (California Healthline, 9/4).
The governor said a ballot measure would not break his pledge against tax increases because it would let voters "make the decision to fund" the health care reform plan (San Jose Mercury News, 9/8). He added that a vote in favor of health care expansion "is the best investment [voters] can make" (New York Times, 9/9).
A spokesperson for Schwarzenegger said the governor would assemble the "strongest, most robust health care coalition ever put together" to push for the ballot initiative (San Jose Mercury News, 9/8).
The governor also addressed health care reform efforts in his speech Friday at the California Republican Party's annual fall convention, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Marinucci, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8).
California voters "want us to work for comprehensive health care, not to stand in its way," Schwarzenegger said in his speech. "We will be on the losing end of history unless we realize that health care must be addressed" (Halper/Martelle, Los Angeles Times, 9/8).
Summaries of opinion pieces regarding health care reform in California appear below.
- Children's Health Initiative of San Luis Obispo County, San Luis Obispo
Tribune: "The window of opportunity to cover all children is closing," the board of directors of the Children's Health Initiative of San Luis Obispo County writes in a Tribune opinion piece. "Moreover, when that window closes, all or some of the progress we've made at the local level will begin to unravel and the number of uninsured children will increase," the board writes. "It's time for us -- as a community -- to stand up for our children. And it's time for our elected officials to stop talking about covering all kids and just do it," the board concludes (Children's Health Initiative of San Luis Obispo County, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 9/8).
- Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee: A deal between Schwarzenegger and Democrats on health care reform "is within reach -- if both sides decide they want it badly enough," Weintraub writes in his Bee column. "If the governor and Democratic leaders can reach agreement on" mandatory employer contributions and the individual mandate, "the rest of the deal will likely fall into place and go to the voters next year," Weintraub concludes (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 9/9).
Also on the topic of health care reform, Capital Public Radio's "Insight" on Monday is scheduled to include a report on the difference between a "tax" and a "fee" and how the distinction could affect the chances for the passage of Schwarzenegger's reform plan ("Insight" Web site, 9/10).
Additional details about the segment and a broadcast schedule are available online.
In addition, KPCC's "AirTalk" on Friday included a discussion with KPCC correspondent Julie Small about the various health care reform proposals (Mantle, "AirTalk," KPCC, 9/7).
Audio of the segment is available online.