Governor, Labor Unions Debate Health Care Reform Proposals
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration has criticized labor unions for opposing the governor's health care reform proposal while maintaining support for a plan by presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), MediaNews/Oakland Tribune reports. Supporters of the governor say his and Clinton's plans share many provisions (Harmon, MediaNews/Oakland Tribune, 10/22).
Both plans call for an individual coverage mandate, tax deductions for health care premiums and a guaranteed coverage mandate. In addition, both plans seek to distribute the cost among businesses, consumers, health care providers and drug companies.
Last week, labor unions and consumer groups began a statewide opposition campaign to the governor's plan. 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 (California Healthline, 10/17).
Labor groups say they will remain opposed to the plan until it provides more subsidies to families and individuals and ensures that coverage is affordable (MediaNews/Oakland Tribune, 10/22).
Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director, said he believes labor unions eventually will demand changes to Clinton's plan (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 10/22).
However, Art Pulaski, executive secretary of the California Labor Federation, said that unlike the governor's plan, Clinton's proposal would authorize the government to enter into bulk purchasing agreements on prescription drugs.
In a letter to Schwarzenegger, Pulaski said the governor's failure to address prescription drug prices "brings into question the seriousness of [his] commitment to truly lowering the cost of health care" (MediaNews/Oakland Tribune, 10/22).
Leif Haase, director of the New America Foundation's California program, said the governor has a record with labor unions "where he's vetoed their bills." He added, "That hasn't happened with [Clinton]."
Haase predicts that labor unions could propose a ballot initiative based on a health care reform bill (AB 8) by Democratic legislative leaders. Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure because it would largely rely on employer contributions (Sacramento Bee, 10/22).
Assembly Democrats have scheduled a hearing for Oct. 31 to consider Schwarzenegger's proposal.
The administration hopes that lawmakers will vote on the plan by November so they can begin the process of creating a ballot initiative containing the fund portion of the plan (MediaNews/Oakland Tribune, 10/22).
"We have the best opportunity in decades to reform our health care system," Liz Helms, chair of the California Chronic Care Coalition, writes in a San Jose Mercury News opinion piece. If lawmakers fail to enact health care reform, "we are threatening the health and lives of people with chronic illnesses, because our conditions will only worsen without access to care," according to Helms (Helms, San Jose Mercury News, 10/22).
Speaking on behalf of Schwarzenegger in his weekly radio address, Helms discussed the governor's health care reform plan and its impact on chronic disease care.
Audio of Helms' remarks and a Spanish translation are available on Schwarzenegger's Web site (Office of the Governor release, 10/20).