California Senate Panel’s Vote on Health Reform Plan Delayed
On Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee postponed until Monday a vote on compromise health care reform legislation (ABX1 1) negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles), the Ventura County Star reports.
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) requested the delay, which committee Chair Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) announced during a hearing on the bill (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 1/24). The Assembly already has approved the measure.
During the hearing, several Democratic lawmakers expressed concern over a report released this week by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office that found the health care overhaul could leave the state with a $4 billion shortfall within five years if its insurance costs were underestimated (Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/24).
The report projected the deficit if monthly premium costs rise to $300 per person. In their cost projections, proponents anticipated monthly premiums of $250 per person (Ventura County Star, 1/24).
Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshé defended the $250 estimate and argued that the figure is above the monthly rates for Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program (Chorneau, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24).
Núñez, meanwhile, told the committee, "The soundness of this plan is inevitably strong," adding, "We have an independent funding stream that will not impact the budget" (Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 1/24).
Perata's request to postpone the committee's vote came one day after Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a member of the panel, announced he would not vote for the bill. Kuehl previously stated her opposition to the measure (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 1/24).
Kuehl said Perata asked to postpone the vote to allow more time for lawmakers to study the report (San Jose Mercury News, 1/24).
Without the support of Kuehl and Yee, the legislation is one vote shy of passage in the 11-member committee. None of the four Republican members has backed the measure (Goldmacher, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 1/23).
Senate Democrats plan to meet to discuss the legislation before Monday's scheduled vote (San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/24).
Perata has the option of adding committee members to secure enough votes for passage of the bill (Ventura County Star, 1/24). However, the Senate leader said Wednesday he is pessimistic about the prospects of passing the plan, according to the Mercury News. He added that the economy is currently a more pressing issue than health care reform (San Jose Mercury News, 1/24).
Perata's decision to postpone the vote might give Schwarzenegger, Núñez -- "and the Senate president if he so chooses -- the time to do some arm-twisting," Steve Wiegand writes in a Bee opinion piece. "Without it, ABX1 1 looks doomed," Wiegand argues, adding, "And as disheartening as that might be, it's at least consistent with the Legislature's true mantra: Do Nothing" (Wiegand, Sacramento Bee, 1/24).
Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Thursday reported on LAO's report. The segment includes comments from:
- Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill, author of the report;
- Núñez; and
- Perata (Russ, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 1/24).
Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online. 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.