California Healthline Rounds Up Coverage of Health-Related Measures That Could Appear on Nov. 2 Ballot
The "final shape" of the Nov. 2 statewide ballot "remains an open question" as supporters of some initiatives -- including a measure to repeal a law (SB 2) requiring some employers to provide health insurance to employees and measures to fund mental health and emergency services and embryonic stem cell research -- work to collect the signatures required to qualify the measures for the ballot by Friday's deadline, the Sacramento Bee reports. In addition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is expected to be "more visible and active" in campaigns involving some ballot measures, although the "exact role" that he will play in the Nov. 2 ballot "remains unclear," according to the Bee. Schwarzenegger is not expected to support a measure to rescind SB 2 (Delsohn, Sacramento Bee, 4/11). SB 2 would require some employers to provide health insurance to workers or pay into a state fund to provide such coverage. Under the law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, employers with 200 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into the state fund. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007. The law will exempt employers with fewer than 20 employees. The law also will exempt employers with 20 to 49 employees unless the state provides them with tax credits to subsidize the cost of health insurance for employees (California Healthline, 3/31). According to the Bee, the California Chamber of Commerce -- one of Schwarzenegger's key supporters -- said SB 2 would be "devastating to businesses," and Schwarzenegger has said he agrees with the chamber's opinion. However, Schwarzenegger is not expected to campaign to rescind the law because it could jeopardize the support of Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) for Schwarzenegger's state budget proposal (Sacramento Bee, 4/11).
Supporters of a state ballot initiative to raise taxes on residential and cellular phone bills to fund emergency department services on Monday submitted nearly one million signatures to qualify the measure for the Nov. 2 ballot, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/13). The measures needs 598,105 certified signatures to qualify for the ballot (Sheppard, Los Angeles Daily News, 4/12). The initiative proposes adding a 3% surcharge to residents' telephone bills and is projected to generate $550 million annually (California Healthline, 4/8). The Emergency Nurses Association of California, the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the California Primary Care Association support the measure, which would exempt seniors and other state residents who qualify for discounted phone service. The measure also would cap the tax at 50 cents per month for residential customers (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/13).
Schwarzenegger also is expected to campaign for a proposed ballot measure to reform the state workers' compensation insurance system if the Legislature this week does not approve legislation to reduce employers' workers' compensation insurance premiums (Sacramento Bee, 4/11). Under the workers' compensation proposal, insurers would be prohibited from raising their expenses or profits from the levels reported to the state on July 1, 2003, for three years. Insurers could seek approval from the Insurance Department for adjustments in their actual costs of paying claims but not any other costs or profits during the three-year period (California Healthline 3/25). The Mental Health Services Act, which would add a 1% surcharge on personal incomes that exceed $1 million annually to pay for mental health programs, also is expected to appear on the November ballot (California Healthline 3/29).
Sponsors of initiatives such as those to raise taxes to fund ED services and mental health services "might have picked the wrong time to go forward," columnist Daniel Weintraub writes in the Sacramento Bee. However, state voters "are more likely to approve tax increases if they know where the money is going," including efforts to fund health care programs, Weintraub writes. According to Weintraub, the "commotion over the phone tax and other measures" expected to appear on the November ballot could make it possible for the initiative to fund mental health services to "sneak through" (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 4/13).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.