Schwarzenegger’s First Year Examined, Including Health Care Record
Several newspapers recently examined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) actions on several issues, including some health-related concerns, during his first year in office.
Schwarzenegger's enactment of the workers' compensation reform law (SB 899) on April 19 "showed he could negotiate a complex issue involving many warring factions," according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/14).
The reform law provides for immediate medical care for injured workers; requires injured workers to choose from a network of employer-selected physicians for treatment or petition a medical review panel to see a physician outside the network; requires use of American Medical Association guidelines to rate impairments to injured workers; implements provisions to encourage injured workers to return to work; and allows employers to apportion workers' compensation payments to cover only work-related injuries.
In addition, the law requires employers and workers to be considered equal before the law; limits temporary disability payments to two years instead of five years, as previously allowed; increases benefits for workers who are more than 70% disabled; gives small businesses a state reimbursement of as much as $2,500 for necessary workplace changes to allow an injured worker to return to work; requires workers to prove that an injury exists; and eliminates payments for claims of back pain and other pains (California Healthline, 5/28).
Schwarzenegger in February said of the reform, "by working together we have shown that we are bigger than our problems, that everything is possible."
Also during his first year, Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have allowed state residents to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and campaigned for a "no" vote Proposition 72, a referendum on state law (SB 2) that would have required some employers to provide health coverage to employees or pay into a fund to provide such coverage. SB 2 was repealed (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13).
Schwarzenegger's actions during the first year of his term "were neither as revolutionary as his supporters has hoped nor as disastrous as some of his critics has warned," Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub writes in an opinion piece, adding that Schwarzenegger brought "glitz and charm" to state politics "but not fundamental transformation."
Schwarzenegger "managed to lay out an expansive agenda" that included addressing "some of the state's most intractable problems," such as workers' compensation reform, Weintraub writes. According to Weintraub, enacting reform to the state workers' compensation insurance system was Schwarzenegger's "first real example of his ability to use his popularity with the voters" to persuade his opponents to adopt his position.
In negotiating the reform, Schwarzenegger "gave up some of the business community's more ambitious goals" but "won a package of reforms designed to reduce disputes, get workers back on the job more quickly and focus compensation on the most severely injured employees," Weintraub continues.
However, according to Weintraub, Schwarzenegger "was never able to bring health care advocates into his big tent," having "abandoned almost all the cuts he proposed in those services." Weintraub adds that in upcoming months, Schwarzenegger "is on track to propose major changes" to Medi-Cal (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 11/14).