Health Care Reform Negotiations Continue as Priorities Shift
Legislative approval of a health care reform plan this year is becoming more uncertain as Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) has shifted lawmakers' focus to helping homeowners with subprime mortgage loans, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 12/3).
On Thursday, Núñez canceled an Assembly vote scheduled for this week on his health care reform plan (ABX1 1) because a compromise had not been reached with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
Steve Maviglio, a Núñez spokesperson, said Democratic legislative leaders and the governor are "still negotiating on health care, and we needed additional time to draft language and shop it around" (California Healthline, 11/30).
However, Núñez conceded that reaching a deal on health care reform is no longer the top priority. He asked Schwarzenegger on Thursday to call a special legislative session to address recent problems with subprime mortgage loans, calling the issue "a more immediate crisis" and "the biggest crisis we're facing today."
Meanwhile, several obstacles remain for Schwarzenegger and Democrats as they try to find common ground on health care reform, including how to pay for the plan. Democrats favor a tobacco tax increase, while the governor has proposed leasing the state lottery.
Last week, California Treasurer Bill Lockyer (D) argued that the state should continue to operate the lottery and borrow money against future profits to help finance a health care overhaul (Sacramento Bee, 12/3).
Because of Republican opposition to provisions expected to be included in the health care reform bill, Schwarzenegger and Democrats would have to seek voter approval for a funding mechanism. The measure likely would be included on the November 2008 ballot (California Healthline, 11/30).
Núñez's plan has faced resistance from labor allies, a group that could help wage an opposition campaign to the ballot measure, according to the Bee.
The California Labor Federation and other labor groups recently met with Núñez to outline conditions he must meet to win their support.
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the federation, would not comment on the meeting but said he remains committed to working with lawmakers to pass an affordable health care reform bill (Sacramento Bee, 12/3).
Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports that a ballot measure containing a financing mechanism for health care reform likely would fail, according to recent history of similar initiatives.
Voters have defeated the last five ballot initiatives aiming to reform California's health care system. Some of those propositions sought to regulate HMOs and require businesses to provide coverage.
Rick Claussen, a political consultant, said the ballot initiative must convince insured voters that they will benefit from the health care plan and not see changes in their own coverage.
Adam Mendelsohn, a Schwarzenegger spokesperson, said, "Everyone recognizes it would be a difficult campaign, but it's a debate Californians are eager to have." He added, "People's frustration with the health care system is at an all-time high" (Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 12/2).
In its Dec. 3 print edition, the Sacramento Business Journal published a question-and-answer session with Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access. The interview included his views on the health care reform debate in California (Sacramento Business Journal, 12/3).
Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Monday reported on the next steps in health care reform negotiations. The segment includes comments from Núñez (O'Mara, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 12/3).
A transcript and audio of the segment are available online.