Fate of Health Reform Rests With Senate, California Voters
Despite winning passage in the Assembly on Monday, a plan to overhaul California's health care system faces uncertainty as it needs approval from the Senate and residents before it becomes law, the AP/Ventura County Star reports (Young, AP/Ventura County Star, 12/19).
Backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles), the plan would extend health care coverage to 3.7 million of the 5.1 million California residents who are considered permanently uninsured.
Insurers would be required to provide coverage to all applicants, and residents who meet certain income levels would be eligible for tax credits to purchase insurance.
The plan would be funded through employer contributions, a hospital tax, a tobacco tax increase and an expansion of federal funds. Voters in November 2008 likely will be asked to vote on a ballot initiative that sets up the plan's funding mechanism (California Healthline, 12/18).
Many of the plan's details remain unknown, however, because Schwarzenegger and Núñez are still drafting the bill's language, according to the AP/Star.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) has resisted pressure from the bill's supporters to call the Senate back into session this week to vote on the plan. Instead, the Senate leader has asked the state's legislative analyst to determine how the overhaul plan could affect the state's projected budget shortfall (AP/Ventura County Star, 12/19).
Schwarzenegger said last week that California faces a deficit of $10 billion to $14 billion over the next two years; those familiar with the situation expect the shortfall to be $14.5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports (Carlton, Wall Street Journal, 12/19).
On Tuesday, Perata said in a TV interview that the health care reform plan is dead on arrival, adding, "I haven't found anybody yet that I have talked to that can make any sense out of it," the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports.
The Bee also reported that Perata's spokesperson, Alicia Trost, later said the "health care reform movement is not DOA." She added, "We need to know the details of the financing plans, as well as the details of the budget before the Senate takes it up," but "[w]e remain committed to passing health care reform" (Sacramento Bee, "Capitol Alert," 12/18).
The review by the legislative analyst likely will be completed after Schwarzenegger unveils his spending plan for next fiscal year on Jan. 10, according to Trost (AP/Ventura County Star, 12/19).
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger and Núñez will hold a news conference in San Diego to rally support for health care reform and pressure Perata to hold a Senate vote on the plan, the San Diego Union-Tribune's "PolBlog" reports.
The news conference would be the third from the two politicians this week (Ainsworth, San Diego Union-Tribune, "PolBlog," 12/18).
Meanwhile, if the plan passes in the Legislature, its financing mechanism could have difficulty winning voter approval due to several factors, including:
- Voters' reluctance to approve tax increases;
- A growing budget deficit and uncertain economy;
- Opposition from business groups; and
- Voter uncertainty about how the plan could affect their own coverage (AP/Ventura County Star, 12/19).
Summaries of editorials and an opinion piece weighing in on the health care reform debate in California appear below.
- Los Angeles Daily News: It is "a bit early to be claiming victory" on the Assembly's approval of a health care reform plan, a Daily News editorial states. The plan also "will be moot if federal courts stick to past precedents and find the legislation faulty" for requiring employers to provide insurance, according to the editorial. However, the editorial concludes, "This plan certainly isn't perfect, but right now, it's the best California has got" (Los Angeles Daily News, 12/18).
- Contra Costa Times: Schwarzenegger "deserves considerable credit for not abandoning his promise to offer health care reform despite a slowing economy and a huge state budget deficit," a Times editorial states. However, further analysis of the plan is necessary even if it means "it will miss the deadline for the November 2008 ballot, it's worth the sacrifice," according to the editorial (Contra Costa Times, 12/19).
- San Jose Mercury News: "Perata has reason to be skeptical" of the plan's affordability and whether voters would pass the measure, a Mercury News editorial states. "Perata's delaying tactics should be commended" because health care reform "is too important to be left to political guesswork or a roll of the dice," according to the editorial (San Jose Mercury News, 12/19).
- Los Angeles Times: Once Schwarzenegger "makes a reasonable case that there will be adequate funding -- and that there's a backup plan in place should finances fall short -- the Senate should get on board and let the signature collection begin," a Times editorial states. It adds, "No one is going to come up with the perfect solution ... it's time to take the blueprint for experimentation that we have" (Los Angeles Times, 12/9).
- Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star: Throughout Monday's Assembly debate on health care reform, "not a soul had a kind word to say about the system we've got," Herdt writes in a Star opinion piece (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 12/19).
KPCC's "AirTalk" on Tuesday included a discussion with John Myers, Sacramento bureau chief for KQED's "The California Report," about the potential impact of a health care reform agreement (Mantle, "AirTalk," KPCC, 12/18).
Audio of the segment is available online.