Unions Reap Benefits From Compromise Health Reform Measure
In an effort to secure support for his health reform plan, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) added language to legislation that would benefit two labor unions, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The provisions were added shortly after the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees donated a total of more than $1 million to a ballot campaign sponsored by Núñez that would rework California's term-limit rules for lawmakers, the Times reports.
Under the final version of Núñez's reform plan, approved by the Assembly on Monday, the unions would receive:
- Three years of increases in state funding of health care coverage for tens of thousands of home care workers;
- Unilateral authority to create and operate trust funds to provide employer-based health insurance, a move that strips negotiating power from county agencies that employ the workers; and
- $25 million annually for a "Workforce Development Program Fund" that would provide retraining programs for workers at county hospitals and clinics.
The Times notes that the support of both unions will be important in helping to win voter approval of a November 2008 ballot initiative that would provide a funding mechanism for the health care reform plan (Rothfeld/Rau, Los Angeles Times, 12/20).
The health reform plan would extend health care coverage to 3.7 million of the 5.1 million California residents who are considered permanently uninsured.
Insurers would be required to provide coverage to all applicants, and residents who meet certain income levels would be eligible for tax credits to purchase insurance.
The plan would be funded through employer contributions, a hospital tax, a tobacco tax increase and an expansion of federal funds (California Healthline, 12/19).
The Senate is next to consider the plan, though Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) has said that he will not call Senate lawmakers back to consider the legislation until the 2008 session begins on Jan. 7.
Perata has asked Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill to determine how the health care reform plan could affect the state's projected $14 billion budget deficit. Perata wants the report to account for Schwarzenegger's proposed fiscal year 2008-2009 spending plan, which he will unveil Jan. 10 (California Healthline, 12/18).
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) said he gave Schwarzenegger a list of proposed budget cuts worth $11 billion last week, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports.
Ackerman did not disclose details of the cuts but noted that they mostly involve education, health and welfare -- three services for which the state is required to spend a certain amount of money (Lin, Sacramento Bee, "Capitol Alert," 12/19).
On Thursday, Schwarzenegger and Núñez visited a hospital in San Diego to help build support for health care reform, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
The governor said the nearly 12 months of negotiations on the issue have been "very, very difficult," adding, "There are so many entities out there fighting this process."
Officials from SEIU and two San Diego business groups joined Schwarzenegger and Núñez in support of the overhaul plan (Darcé, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/20).
Summaries of opinion pieces regarding the health care reform debate in California appear below.
- George Skelton, Los Angeles Times: The "most influential person in the Capitol on health care right now is" the state's legislative analyst, Skelton writes in his "Capitol Journal" column for the Times. "Her word will be gospel," Skelton writes, adding that Perata, Núñez and Schwarzenegger "would be wise to heed her admonitions" (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 12/20).
- Robert Ross, Sacramento Bee: If health care "reform doesn't happen this year, it is simply not going to happen," Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, writes in a Bee opinion piece. "With a budget deficit facing us next year coupled with an election and the desire to pay special attention to education, our elected leaders will almost certainly give health care reform short shrift," Ross writes, adding, "Consequently, action must be taken now" (Ross, Sacramento Bee, 12/20).
- Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee: Many "Republican voters appear to be willing to adjust their traditional ideological moorings when it comes to health care," Weintraub writes in a Bee opinion piece. Schwarzenegger and allies "clearly hope that ... a robust private insurance market with a universal mandate and a government safety net ... becomes the new standard for Republican policy on this issue," according to Weintraub (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 12/20).