Groups Begin Campaigning in Favor of, Against Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Law
Consumer advocacy group Health Access California began the first part of a $15 million campaign against a referendum to repeal a law (SB 2) that would require some employers to provide health coverage to employees or pay into a state fund to provide such coverage, the Sacramento Bee reports. According to the Bee, more than 100 labor, consumer, community and religious groups led by the California Medical Association plan to campaign against the repeal effort, which was sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 5/30). Under the law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, employers with 200 or more employees will have to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into the state fund. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007. The law will exempt employers with fewer than 20 employees. The law also will exempt employers with 20 to 49 employees unless the state provides them with tax credits to subsidize the cost of health insurance for workers (California Healthline, 5/25). SB 2 supporters say the law would provide coverage for about one million previously uninsured state residents, and cap contributions at 20% for those already covered by employers. Estimated costs for SB 2 "vary widely," from $1.3 billion a year, according to CMA officials, to $11.3 billion a year, according to Employment Policies Institute estimates, the Bee reports.
Anthony Wright, a spokesperson for Health Access California, said, "Everybody who works hard and plays by the rules deserves affordable health insurance." Art Pulaski, director of the California Labor Federation, said in a Los Angeles conference that SB 2 would relieve overcrowding in hospital emergency departments, a situation that affects both insured and uninsured residents. The Chamber of Commerce is expected to launch a campaign in favor of the repeal measure directed at voters "who are satisfied with their [health care] coverage," according to the Bee. Allan Zaremberg, president of the Chamber of Commerce said, "This is about imposing a health care tax on employers that is a detriment to job creation." Assembly member Dr. Keith Stuart Richman (R-Granada Hills), said, "If we don't have an environment where businesses can succeed, people can't get good middle-class jobs and pay taxes so we can invest in health care and other quality-of-life things."
According to the Bee, the legislation "could face legal hurdles," even if residents vote to uphold SB 2. Such obstacles include some objections that the state fee is actually a tax and did not receive a required two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature. In addition, minimum standards set for most voluntary health plans by the 1974 federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act "may clash" with the law, according to the Bee (Sacramento Bee, 5/30).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.