Prospects for State Health Care Reform May Be Slipping Away
Is Gov. Schwarzenegger's self-declared "Year of Health Care" doomed instead to go down as the "Year of Capitol Gridlock"?
More and more health care advocates and policymakers are worried it will. And so, apparently, is the governor himself.
This week, Schwarzenegger accused Senate Republicans -- who have come out against provisions of his health care overhaul proposal, as well as Democrats' plan -- of intentionally stalling the budget. "It is to their interest to drag this out so that we will not have enough time to get to health care reform," he said on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) dismissed the governor's charge, firing back, "Senate Republicans think that health care is important, as do most Californians."
While the governor and Senate Republicans traded barbs, a Los Angeles Times columnist revealed that Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) plans to withdraw her bill (SB 840) that aimed to create a state-run, single-payer health care system in California. Kuehl instead reportedly is hoping to reintroduce the measure if a Democrat succeeds Schwarzenegger and is more receptive to single-payer health care.
"I don't want to send SB 840 to the governor simply so he can grind it once again under his heel," Kuehl said.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) is more optimistic about the prospects for health care reform this year, saying that in "the absence of real action on the part of the federal government and Congress ... we in California are going to deliver."
Meanwhile, momentum is building behind more local efforts to rework the way Californians access health care.
For instance, San Francisco's landmark program to ensure access to health care services for city residents is reaching enrollment benchmarks ahead of schedule. If a provision that requires employers to help cover the cost of the program withstands a court challenge, Healthy San Francisco could emerge as a model strategy for local governments to overhaul health care in a way that California lawmakers are having a harder time doing.
Measures addressing health insurance coverage that the Legislature has considered in 2007 include:
Assembly member John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) are carrying legislation (AB 1 and SB 32, respectively) that would raise household income thresholds and eliminate citizenship considerations to expand children's eligibility for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, California's version of Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, respectively (Bill text, 7/2). AB 1 is before the Senate Appropriations Committee (Bill status, 7/11). Steinberg's measure is before the Assembly Appropriations Committee (Bill status, 7/3).
A bill (AB 343) by Assembly member Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) would require the Department of Health Care Services and the Medical Risk Managed Insurance Board to identify firms with more than 25 employees who are beneficiaries or have dependents who are beneficiaries of public health insurance programs (Bill text, 6/27). The legislation is before the Senate Appropriations Committee (Bill status, 7/9).
Assembly member Alan Nakanishi's (R-Lodi) AB 84 would have exempted contributions to health savings accounts from state income tax (Bill text, 3/12). The measure is being held before the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee (Bill status, 5/22).