Highlighting his priority of addressing costs as part of health care reform efforts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) this week vetoed a bill that would have required large employers in the state to dedicate a percentage of wages to health benefits for workers or pay into a state health fund to offset the cost of public insurance programs. Under the measure, companies that employ more than 10,000 workers would have been required to spend at least 8% of their total wages on health benefits. Supporters said the bill was designed to prevent large employers from shifting health care costs to government-sponsored programs. However, Schwarzenegger in his veto message said the bill "does nothing to address the health care challenges we face" and "will do little more than lead to expensive legal challenges," noting that a similar law recently was struck down by courts in Maryland. Last week, Schwarzenegger said he plans to veto a separate bill to create a single-payer health care system in the state -- a plan he called "a serious and expensive mistake."
The governor's comments come at a time when a Commonwealth Fund study released on Thursday found that 89% of U.S. residents who tried to purchase individual health coverage in the past three years were rejected for medical reasons or felt the plans were too costly. Schwarzenegger has called on lawmakers to work with him in 2007 -- if he is re-elected -- to make health care more affordable for residents, but he has not released any details of a possible plan.
Schwarzenegger also signed SB 162, by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), which will split the Department of Health Services into two agencies and create the Department of Public Health. The public health department would focus on disease prevention, public safety and licensing, while DHS would maintain oversight of public health insurance programs, including Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.
This week's Legislative Update also includes information on 10 other health care-related bills the Legislature approved by the Aug. 31 deadline, including:
- A measure that would allow counties to increase fines for some criminal offenses and traffic violations to fund trauma centers and emergency departments;
- Legislation that would require a report to the Legislature that identifies all employers in the state who employ 25 or more workers who receive government-sponsored health insurance; and
- A bill that would create a program to test residents' blood, urine and other body fluids for toxic chemicals and other pollutants.