Health care expansion was the major focus in Sacramento this week as the leader of California's state Senate announced a proposal that would extend coverage to uninsured California workers without requiring state funds or tax hikes.
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) on Tuesday unveiled a health care plan aimed at Californians who are employed but have no medical insurance for themselves or their dependents -- a population estimated at 4.2 million people. The plan would require all employers to provide insurance or pay into a state fund for coverage. A state agency would oversee the fund and negotiate with insurers on behalf of employees. Each worker would contribute to the insurance cost through a payroll deduction and furnish proof of coverage when filing taxes.
Former Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003 signed SB 2, a law similar in spirit to Perata's proposal. SB 2 would have required some employers to provide health insurance benefits to workers or pay into a state fund to provide those benefits. The level of benefits required was determined by the number of employees a company had. The business community fiercely opposed the law and mounted a successful ballot measure to repeal the law in 2004 before it could take effect.
The plan also would expand eligibility for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, but would not provide coverage to unemployed adults or undocumented immigrant children who are ineligible for Medi-Cal.
The plan, estimated to cost between $5 billion and $7 billion annually, could be approved in the Legislature with Democratic votes alone if Perata's plan can succeed without support from the state general fund. Republicans have signaled they will oppose the plan, regardless of state funding, because of the employer mandate component. However, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) responded to the proposal by saying that he was encouraged that Perata had submitted ideas on health care reform, adding that the "stage is set for comprehensive health care reform." Schwarzenegger will unveil his own proposal next month.
Legislation to expand health insurance coverage also emerged as a national issue this week, as Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) offered a proposal that would guarantee health insurance for all U.S. residents. The plan calls for private health insurers to provide coverage to individuals directly through state purchasing pools, rather than through employers. Uninsured residents would receive federal subsidies, depending on their income level. Those who do not purchase insurance will face fines.
This week's Legislative Update features an examination of another persistent health care issue in the state -- the effort to pass a ballot initiative that would require a parent or guardian to be notified before unmarried minors could have an abortion. California voters rejected such measures in 2005 and this year.