California Medical Association Leadership, Members Debate Support of Health Coverage Law
Members and leaders of the California Medical Association are "battling" over the group's support of a law (SB 2) that will require some companies to provide health insurance to their workers or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage, the Sacramento Bee reports (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 1/25). SB 2, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, will require employers with 200 or more employees to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007, and employers with fewer than 20 workers will be exempt from the law. Those with 20 to 49 employees will be exempt from the law unless the state provides tax credits to subsidize the cost of health benefits. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Thursday that a referendum to repeal the law could appear on the November statewide ballot (California Healthline, 1/23). According to CMA Chair Jack Lewin, the group's leadership decided to support the bill last year because "maintaining access to health care ... is essential before the [health care] system can be reformed," the Bee reports.
Some CMA members have criticized the leadership for supporting SB 2, arguing that a rise in health care costs also affects doctors in private practice who cannot increase prices because of limits on reimbursement rates paid by private insurers and government health programs. Marcy Zwelling, president of the Los Angeles County Medical Society, said that LACMS opposes the law because the group does not support additional government "meddling and mandates," adding that LACMS members thought it was "hypocritical to subject the community to the same thing we hated," the Bee reports. In addition, the San Diego County Medical Society opposes the law and instead supports a payment system that is less dependent upon "middle agents such as insurers and employers," according to the Bee. Lewin said that while he acknowledges doctors' complaints, the "worst thing we could do is nothing and let everyone go to the emergency room where the care is 10 times more costly than a doctor's office" (Sacramento Bee, 1/25). KQED's "California Report" on Monday reported on the appeals court decision that a referendum to repeal SB 2 can appear on the November statewide ballot (Musiker, "California Report," KQED, 1/26). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
California voters should vote to repeal SB 2 in November because "forcing employers to pick up the tab" for health coverage "is not the answer," a San Jose Mercury News editorial states. Although "every Californian should have access to health care," requiring employers to provide health coverage for employees "sets the wrong precedent, and further cripples a struggling economy," according to the editorial. Instead, reform should start at the federal level, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) should work to build a bipartisan coalition that will "demand that the president and Congress work aggressively to find ways to insure ... 40 million uninsured" U.S. residents (San Jose Mercury News, 1/26).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.