Some Democrats Plan To Pursue Health-Related Legislation in New Session
Democratic legislators are "bracing to stop" Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) from reducing funding for health and social services programs during the 2005 legislative session, the Los Angeles Times reports (Rau/Vogel, Los Angeles Times, 1/3). Last month, Tom Campbell, the state's new director of finance, said a new plan to close a projected $8.1 billion spending gap relies heavily on reducing the budgets of health care programs for elderly and low-income residents (California Healthline, 12/20/04).
According to the Los Angeles Times, a number of issues, such as expanding health coverage, that Democrat and Republican lawmakers "found little common ground [on] last year ... will be back on the table" in the current session (Los Angeles Times, 1/1). A summary of health-related issues expected to be addressed appears below.
- Reimportation: Last year, Schwarzenegger vetoed measures that would make it easier for state residents to purchase prescription drugs from Canada. Similar legislation or a ballot measure is expected this session (LaMar, Contra Costa Times, 1/1).
- Prescription drug costs: Schwarzenegger rejected other Democratic measures to lower prescription drug costs last year and instead proposed a voluntary program for pharmaceutical companies to offer discounts for families with annual incomes that do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level. Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) are expected to submit proposals this session that would expand eligibility guidelines to include households with annual incomes that do not exceed 400% of the federal poverty level and that make it more difficult for Medi-Cal to cover treatments made by pharmaceutical companies that do not discount their prices for the state.
- Health Insurance: A 2003 law that would have required employers to provide health insurance to workers was repealed by voters last year, but some lawmakers might propose a revised version of the law (Los Angeles Times, 1/1). Some legislators are considering a proposal that would require residents to have private health insurance or be covered by an employer or the government.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said, "We want to be able to articulate where we're spending our time. Are we spending the majority or our time on gay marriages or driver's licenses? No. ... The majority of our time is going to be spent on health care. The majority of our time is going to be spent on prescription drugs. The majority of our time is going to be spent on preserving clean air and clean water in California. Those are important issues to us" (Los Angeles Times, 1/1).
Assembly member Joe Canciamilla (D-Martinez) said, "It's going to be very unstable this year. The signals are clear: It's going to be much more partisan."
Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, said, "This year is going to be about fundamental reform, and legislative leaders are going to have to choose if they are going to support fundamental reform or if they are going to champion special interests" (Contra Costa Times, 1/1).
In related news, Schwarzenegger this week is expected to ask the Legislature to make changes to the budgeting process, the Sacramento Bee reports. According to the Bee, Democrats are anticipating cuts to health and socials service programs when Schwarzenegger announces his proposed budget Jan. 10, "even if he doesn't draw attention to such cuts in his address."
Schwarzenegger aides said that in the governor's address Wednesday, Schwarzenegger will not specifically call for a special election in 2005, which could include a proposed ballot measure to cap state spending (Talev, Sacramento Bee, 1/2).
Sen. Shelia Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said that for Schwarzenegger to "call for a spending cap, which is just another name for doing nothing but making significant cuts in health and human services, is irresponsible and frankly, I think, cruel" (Nicholas, Los Angeles Times, 1/1).
Approximately $27.5 billion, or 30.7%, or the state's projected $89.5 billion general fund would go to health and welfare in FY 2005-2006, based on an estimate from Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Mendel, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/3).