Lewin, Health Policy Experts Express Support for Employer-Sponsored Coverage Bill
California Medical Association CEO Dr. Jack Lewin and a panel of health policy experts yesterday spoke in support of a bill (SB 2) that would require some businesses in the state to provide health insurance to their employees or pay into a state fund that would provide insurance coverage at a news conference organized by the AFL-CIO, the Fresno Bee reports (Correa, Fresno Bee, 9/23). The bill, passed earlier this month by the Legislature, would require businesses with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance or pay into the state fund. The measure would limit employee premium contributions to 20% and would require employers with 200 or more employees to provide health coverage to workers and their dependents by 2006 to avoid paying into the fund. Businesses that employ 50 to 199 workers would have to offer health insurance to employees only by 2007. Employers with fewer than 20 workers would be exempt from the law, and those with 20 to 49 workers would be exempt from the law unless the state provides tax credits to offset the cost of health benefits (California Healthline, 9/22). The bill could cost between $1.5 billion and $6 billion, the Bee reports. Proponents speaking at the news conference said the bill would improve uninsured people's lives, relieve crowding in emergency rooms and improve the state's business climate. Lewin said businesses will benefit from healthier, more productive workers, adding that the overall cost to businesses declines significantly when state tax credits are taken into account. Dr. Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Foundation, said California has a chance to be a national model. "I think it is very important for states like California to move forward in addressing what is a very important national problem," Davis said. However, Richard Costigan, vice president of government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce, said the bill could force businesses that cannot afford coverage for their employees to shut down or lay off workers. Costigan said the group will "pursue whatever options are available" to prevent Gov. Gray Davis (D) from signing the bill into law, including using protection under the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Fresno Bee, 9/23). NPR's "All Things Considered" Monday reported on SB 2. The segment includes comments from business owner Gus Annan, St. Francis Medical Center emergency room director Dr. Daniel Higgins and University of California-San Francisco Center for California Health Workforce Studies Associate Director Joanne Spetz (Neighmond, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/22). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.