UNIVERSAL COVERAGE: Davis Signs SB 480
Gov. Gray Davis signed SB 480 this week, directing state officials to investigate options for universal health care coverage and, according to one observer, putting "universal health care coverage back on the political map of California." In his signing message, Davis wrote, "The issue of the uninsured is a very difficult one and deserves a careful, measured review. This bill mandates no more than that the state discuss the options. The method -- finding a table and inviting the stakeholders to sit around it -- defines my approach to government which involves hearing all the parties and looking for consensus." Grantland Johnson, secretary of the state HHS, now has "broad latitude to decide how to conduct the review that's supposed to include the scope of possible coverage as well as how to finance and deliver the services," but has yet to decide how to proceed. Sara Nichols, the California director of Neighbor to Neighbor, a not-for-profit group that backed SB 480, said state officials should consider the results of the study the University of California-San Francisco is attempting to launch. Further, she said that state officials "first should review previously produced data on universal health care, and conduct public hearings around the state as well as meetings with policy experts to collect as much information as possible." She continued, "To get the information they need, they must cast a broad net. But what we do not want them to do is reinvent the wheel" (Henshaw, Gannett/Sacramento Bee, 10/14).
Third Largest Number of Uninsured
In related news, researchers who just completed a study for the Health Consumer Alliance are urging Davis to examine the results, which indicate that California has the third highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation. Additionally, researchers discovered that Californians are 43% more likely to be uninsured than residents of other states and to lose their health coverage four times as quickly as other Americans. From 1996 to 1998, the number of Californians who lacked coverage rose by 8,654 per week, or 1,236 per day. Stan Dorn, HCA's director, said, "Last month, Gov. Davis and the legislature made real progress in protecting insured residents who need help getting the care they need. Now it's time to tackle the most fundamental challenge: helping the millions of hard-working Californians who have no insurance at all. The Census Bureau numbers show that the governor and the Legislature must place this issue at the very forefront of the policy agenda in 2000, and SB 480 is an important first step" (HCA release, 10/13).