Governor, Democrats Close to a Deal on Health Care Reform Bill
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Democratic legislative leaders are nearing a compromise on a health care reform plan that Republican lawmakers refuse to endorse, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Chorneau, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/23).
Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary, said, "We hope to have a (health care reform) bill very, very soon." He added, "It's just a matter of closing the last few inches" (Vick, Washington Post, 9/24).
Earlier this month, the Legislature approved a health care reform bill (AB 8) by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) that would have been financed largely using employer contributions.
Schwarzenegger said he would veto the measure and called a special legislative session to seek a compromise on health care reform.
Schwarzenegger's proposal, meanwhile, would require contributions from businesses, hospitals, consumers and physicians (California Healthline, 9/18).
The California Hospital Association and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed the proposal last week.
Núñez said, "The main sticking point, as it always is, is the funding formula, and where is the revenue stream?" He added, "When you rely on a free-market health system, and you want everyone to participate, the key issue is affordability."
Although AB 8 would have drawn funding largely from employers, Núñez now maintains that a compromise reform plan must rely on contributions from hospitals, employers and workers. He added, "And then we're going to have to go out and hustle the voters for a sales tax to make up for the difference" (Washington Post, 9/24).
Schwarzenegger and Democrats are working on a compromise that would enact the framework of the health care reform plan, while asking Californians to approve the financing mechanism for the plan in a ballot initiative next year. Pursuing voter approval for the funding will bypass Republican legislators who are on record as opposing any tax increases or proposals to require fees to fund the health care overhaul (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/23).
Proponents of the proposed ballot measure would have to collect signatures to qualify it for the ballot, according to Marian Mulkey, senior program officer at the California HealthCare Foundation.
Legal experts maintain that the Legislature cannot vote to put the issue directly on the ballot (Solovitch/Roberts, Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, 9/24).
Efforts to expand health insurance coverage in California could offer a preview of what lies ahead for other states and the U.S. as support builds for health care reform, Dow Jones News Service reports.
Betsy Imholz, special projects director for Consumers Union in San Francisco, said, "With California's population and share of the health care marketplace, if we could do it here, it would be a tremendous push and boost for the federal effort."
Moreover, other states could move to overhaul their own health care systems if the plan under consideration in California takes effect, according to Jonathan Oberlander, associate professor of social medicine and health policy and administration at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Gerencher, Dow Jones News Service, 9/24).
Some advocacy groups are criticizing Schwarzenegger for allowing Lloyd Dean, president of Catholic Healthcare West, to substitute for him in his weekly radio address to pitch the governor's health care reform plan, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Dean said the proposal "would insure everyone, reduce costs, increase accountability, reward wellness and prevention, and improve the quality of care."
Anthony Wright, director of Health Access, argued that "for a public official to spotlight and give air time to a private corporation does raise questions, even if it's toward a goal that we agree with, which is health care reform."
McLear said, "I think it adds another dynamic to the address to have not just the governor each week, but various stakeholders who have an interest in these issues."
Dean declined to comment on the issue (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 9/23).
Núñez said that he and Schwarzenegger are about two weeks away from reaching a deal on a health care reform bill, George Skelton writes in his "Capitol Journal" column for the Los Angeles Times. Once a compromise is reached, Núñez said the Legislature will hold hearings before passing the measure on a simple majority vote.
A ballot initiative to approve the necessary funding for an overhaul likely would occur in November 2008, according to Núñez.
He added, "I don't feel fully confident that the voters will support us, but I think they're sending us the right signals," referring to public polls showing support for health care reform (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 9/24).
"The good news is that the public probably will have an up-or-down vote in June 2008 on whatever compromise plan the governor and [Núñez] secretly craft," a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial states. "The bad news is that once they place their sure-to-be-flawed measure on the ballot, they will try to shut off debate about its details," according to the editorial. "This is no way to run a state," the editorial concludes (San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/22).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.