Senate Health Panel Set To Vote on Health Care Reform Measure
On Monday, the Senate Health Committee likely will reject compromise health care reform legislation (ABX1 1) negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles), the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Chorneau, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28).
The committee delayed last week's scheduled vote on the plan to allow lawmakers more time to review a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that found the health care overhaul could leave the state with a $4 billion shortfall within five years if its insurance costs were underestimated (California Healthline, 1/25).
The bill appears to be at least one vote shy of passage after Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) announced he would vote against the measure; committee Chair Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) has been a longtime critic of the proposal (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28).
If Yee and Kuehl cast opposing votes, the measure would need approval from at least one of the 11-member panel's four Republican members to pass. However, no Republican lawmakers have said they will support the bill.
The Assembly passed the measure in December 2007 without any Republican votes (Lawrence, AP/Ventura County Star, 1/28).
Kuehl said, "I don't believe the bill got any kind of scrutiny in the Assembly." She added, "I think the Senate has the very serious responsibility to make a sound judgment about the fiscal security of this bill, which isn't there, and the potential impact on lower- and middle-class people, which is negative" (McKinley, New York Times, 1/28).
Sabrina Lockhart, spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said the governor has spoken to the four legislative leaders as well as Kuehl in an effort to secure approval of the plan.
Lockhart said Schwarzenegger "is optimistic that the Senate believes, as he does, in the importance of achieving health care reform" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28).
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) could add more members to the committee in an effort to ensure approval of the legislation, but Kuehl maintained that would not occur.
If the committee rejects the measure, the full Senate could vote by a simple majority to revive the bill by sending it to the Senate floor for a vote, the AP/Star reports. However, such a move is rarely successful and is considered a challenge to the committee system and the legislative leaders, according to the AP/Star (AP/Ventura County Star, 1/28).
There also are doubts whether the full Senate would be any more likely to approve the bill than the health committee is, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The bill would be defeated in the Senate if five Democrats voted against it (Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 1/26).
Health care stakeholders are divided over the meaning of the bill's expected defeat for health care reform nationwide.
Jaime Regalado, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University-Los Angeles, said, "There are a lot of forces waiting to see what happens in California -- and if it can't get done here, some will be asking where it can get done."
However, Tom Epstein, vice president of public affairs for Blue Shield of California, said, "It would be a bigger blow for [the bill] to be defeated at the polls in one of the nation's most progressive states" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28).