Lawmakers Look To Pass Employer-Paid Health Care Bill Before End of Session
A "sprint is on" to pass a bill (SB 2) that would mandate employer-sponsored health care in California before the end of the legislative session and the recall vote, the Contra Costa Times reports (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 9/1). The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), would require state employers to provide health insurance for employees or pay into a state fund to provide coverage for state residents without employer-sponsored coverage (California Healthline, 8/21). Under the bill, employers with more than 200 workers must provide health care for employees and their dependents by Jan. 1, 2005, or pay into a state fund that would provide the coverage. Businesses with 20 to 199 workers must cover employees, but not their dependents, by Jan. 1, 2006, or pay into the fund. Employees who work 100 hours per month or more would be eligible for coverage (Contra Costa Times, 9/1). The amount businesses would have to pay into the fund would be determined by the state's Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2). The bill also would cap the amount companies can require workers to contribute toward health care at 5% of the total health care premium for low-income workers and 20% for all other workers. According to the Times, the end of the legislative session on Sept. 12 and the "threat of a Republican governor" could mean that Democrats "may have only this one shot" at passing SB 2 (Contra Costa Times, 9/1). The bill does not need any Republican votes to pass but might be opposed by moderate Assembly Democrats, the Chronicle reports. In addition, business groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce say that the bill would "destroy California's economy" and "kick more workers into unemployment" because businesses would have to pay for most of the costs of health insurance, the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2). KQED's "California Report" last week reported on SB 2. The segment includes comments from Richard Costigan, a lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce, and Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access (Shuler, "California Report," KQED, 8/25). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Two editorials in the Chronicle on Monday addressed the legislation. Summaries are provided below.
- The "most pressing issue affecting working families today [is] affordable health care," so the legislature should pass the "groundbreaking" bill, Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. The bill creates a "level playing field" by ensuring that "responsible businesses that provide insurance won't lose their competitive advantage," Garcia maintains, adding that reducing the number of uninsured would lower the "exploding cost of uncompensated care" and reduce health care premiums (Garcia, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/1).
- The "lack of health care takes a drastic toll" on California, and the passage of SB 2 would "significantly expand access to health care" and help businesses by creating a purchasing pool that would be "another cost-effective option for employers to offer health coverage," Dr. John Whitelaw, former president of the California Medical Association, and Art Pulaski, executive treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, write in a Chronicle opinion piece. The bill "goes a long way to addressing the enormous fiscal and social costs of a broken health care system," Whitelaw and Pulaski conclude (Whitelaw/Pulaski, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/1).