Democrats’ Health Care Reform Plan Goes Before Assembly Health Panel
On Wednesday, the Assembly Health Committee will consider a revised health care reform proposal by Democratic legislative leaders, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Kurtzman, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13).
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) unveiled the plan last week. The plan more closely resembles Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) health care plan than an earlier Democratic proposal did, but differences remain over employer contributions and how to finance the proposed coverage expansion.
The Democrats favor a tobacco tax increase of $2 per pack, while the governor has proposed leasing the state lottery to a private operator.
The funding mechanism would be packaged as a ballot initiative that would go before voters in the November 2008 election (California Healthline, 11/6).
Because at least 80% of California voters already have health insurance, it could be difficult winning approval of new taxes that serve no benefit to most voters, the AP/Chronicle reports.
Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines (R-Clovis) argued that California's rising budget deficit will make it even harder for voters to support a tax increase. Villines said Republican legislators will campaign against the tax increases, adding that Schwarzenegger and Democrats only have "a desire to strike a deal."
Meanwhile, analysts maintain that a health care reform deal needs support from unions to win voter approval.
The Service Employees International Union, representing 600,000 California workers, announced Tuesday that it is backing the Democrats' plan.
Sal Roselli, president of the SEIU state council, said the key to union support was the Democrats' exemption from the individual coverage mandate for residents who would have to spend more than 6.5% of household income on health care costs.
Roselli noted, however, that the union is "very close to our bottom line" and could not maintain its support if Democrats' make further concessions to reach a compromise with Schwarzenegger.
Unions also are calling for a requirement that insurers provide comprehensive health care coverage that is affordable for all residents under an individual mandate, according to the AP/Chronicle.
If the Assembly committee approves the proposal, Schwarzenegger and Democrats likely will make more amendments in an effort to reach a compromise.
Núñez and Perata want a final vote after Thanksgiving (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13).
If Schwarzenegger signs a final plan, Villines said a June 2008 ballot referendum could overturn the deal, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports.
Deborah Gonzalez, chief consultant to the Republican caucus, said tobacco companies, pharmaceutical firms and other businesses could potentially fund a referendum on the ballot.
Villines said he believes the Democrats' and governor's health plans are too expensive and their funding sources would not cover the entire cost of the plan. If funding falls short, Villines said the burden would fall on employers (Yamamura, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 11/13).
"No matter how you dress it up," health care reform plans by Democrats and Schwarzenegger "still [amount] to a huge gift for the insurance industry, with millions of new customers who may get little in return," Zenei Cortez, member of the California Nurses Association's Council of Presidents, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. "Rather than rush through an ill-conceived plan that primarily rewards the same insurance giants, let's adopt a more commonsense step, expand children's health coverage with federal funds now and get real, guaranteed health care reform done next year," Cortez writes (Cortez, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/14).
The California Channel will broadcast the Assembly Health Committee hearing live at 1:30 p.m.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.