Consumer, Labor Leaders Unite Against Governor’s Health Plan
On Wednesday, a coalition of labor unions and consumer groups will begin campaigning against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) plan to overhaul California's health care system, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The group includes most major unions, including the California Labor Federation, and two consumer groups -- Health Access California and Consumers Union.
The coalition plans to follow Schwarzenegger throughout the state to challenge his proposal and hold prayer vigils, run television advertisements and petition elected officials to oppose the plan.
Labor leaders and consumer advocates never endorsed Schwarzenegger's plan but tried to persuade the governor to address their concerns, mainly about the cost of health care coverage.
However, their lobbying efforts shifted toward opposition after charging that Schwarzenegger's revised plan, released last week, would require Californians to buy coverage but would not ensure that it is affordable for middle-income residents.
Labor advocates are pushing for the annual income eligibility limit for state subsidies to help purchase coverage to be raised by $10,000 above the governor's proposed level (Rau, Los Angeles Times, 10/16).
Schwarzenegger's plan calls for:
- Families with incomes that do not exceed 150% of the federal poverty level to receive fully subsidized health care coverage;
- Families with incomes that fall between 150% and 200% of the poverty level to pay no more than 4% of income on premiums; and
- Families with incomes that range between 200% and 250% of the poverty level to pay a maximum of 5% on premiums (California Healthline, 10/10).
While the governor and Democratic lawmakers negotiate a reform plan and a financing proposal to be placed on the ballot next year, labor groups are threatening to devise their own ballot initiative.
Under the measure, employers would shoulder most of the responsibility for providing health care coverage, similar to a bill (AB 8) by Democratic legislative leaders that Schwarzenegger vetoed last week (Los Angeles Times, 10/16).
Health care providers and small businesses in the Inland region of Southern California remain skeptical of proposals to overhaul the state health care system, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports.
Health care officials in the region said they are weighing the impacts of Schwarzenegger's proposal, which would be partially funded through contributions from hospitals.
Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California, said, "There are a lot of hurdles yet to be overcome," adding, "But we get excited when we learn that there is a serious effort afoot to extend coverage to more of the uninsured and to improve payment to doctors and hospitals."
Doug Bagley, director of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley, said the governor's proposal needs to ensure that counties recover their costs from funding the plan.
Providers also seek a guarantee that the plan fully reimburses public hospitals for treating Medi-Cal patients.
Meanwhile, only one small-business group in the region has supported Schwarzenegger's reform plan, which would require employers to make contributions based on a sliding scale.
Cindy Roth, executive director of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, said, "Health care in the region is a big deal." She added, "We have concerns of how it's going to work and how the funding is going to work."
Mike Gallo, chair of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, said the group has not endorsed a reform plan but is considering the governor's proposal to "see what the idea is and what you get out if it" (Miller/Trone, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 10/15).
"[E]mployers don't really pay for health care now, and they won't be paying for it no matter what kind of new law the state passes" because "workers pay for [their] own health care" through lower wages, Daniel Weintraub writes in his Sacramento Bee column. Businesses "roll health insurance premiums into a package with wages, retirement benefits and any other cost associated with hiring an employee," Weintraub writes.
If "more people understood this fact, the debate over the issue would probably play out in an entirely different fashion," according to Weintraub (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 10/16).
KQED's "The California Report" on Monday reported on the health care reform debate. The segment includes comments from:
- Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles); and
- Senate Minority Leader George Runner (R-Antelope Valley) (Myers, "The California Report," KQED, 10/15).
Audio of the complete program is 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.