San Francisco Chronicle Opinion Pieces Address Employer-Paid Health Care Bill
The San Francisco Chronicle today published two opinion pieces on a bill (SB 2) that would mandate employer-sponsored health care in California. The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), 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. 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 (California Healthline, 9/3). Summaries of the opinion pieces are provided below.
- Although passing SB 2 would be a "significant step forward" in providing health coverage to all Californians, relying on businesses to pay for the coverage could "pose a serious threat to the minority of companies that simply cannot afford the full costs of providing coverage," requiring some businesses to be subsidized, Bruce Bodaken, chair, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. "The challenge is to design a system that compels employers to pay what they can afford, but no more," Bodaken says, adding that taxpayers should also pay some of the cost of insuring every state resident. While a "million deserving workers and their families will live healthier and more productive lives if [SB 2's] provisions take effect," the legislature should "delay the obligation on small employers until public resources are in place to share the cost with companies that can't afford the full freight," Bodaken writes (Bodaken, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).
- Small businesses, which are "[b]lack and blue" from health care premium increases and "sharp spikes" in workers' compensation costs, "have been set up for the knock-out punch of SB 2," Martyn Hopper, California state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. "Rather than make health care more affordable, SB 2 would force small business owners to pay for top-of-the-line health plans or pay a tax to the state, which could be as high as $7,300 per employee per year in rural areas," Hopper states. SB 2 is "extremely short-sighted," would lead to a "financial fiasco" and would "likely wipe out more small-business owners," Hopper writes. "[L]ifting the ban on cross-state pooling of small business resources and allowing health insurers to offer essential-benefits policies" in California could help expand health coverage in California, Hopper writes, adding, "But SB 2 is the classic good intention packed full of unforeseen devastation" (Hopper, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).