Powerful Move To Short-Circuit the Exchange

The biggest and most ground-breaking piece of the California health care reform puzzle might just stay in the box.

The health care benefits exchange that would be created if the governor signs two bills (AB 1602 and SB 900) that were approved by the Legislature would be similar to an exchange set up in Massachusetts, but would be the first of its kind in the nation established to conform to the national health care reform law.

The governor has been getting a big push from Anthem Blue Cross and the California Chamber of Commerce to veto those bills, according to government officials and health care advocates.

Micah Weinberg is a research fellow in health policy at New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute. “On the anti-exchange side, the charge is being led by Anthem Blue Cross and the [California] Chamber of Commerce,” Weinberg said. “On the other side, he’s getting pressure from what you might call the California health reform coalition, Kaiser and Blue Shield and the Pacific Business Group on Health, organizations like that.”

Republican officials interested in rolling back national health care reform also have pushed Schwarzenegger to veto the exchange, he said.

“It’s not so much insurers on one side and patients on the other, it’s not like that,” Weinberg said. “This is more or less the progressive and less-progressive elements of these different health communities.”

He said that if the governor does veto the exchange bills this week, it will send everyone back to the drawing board, likely in a more politically charged, less results-oriented environment.

“And if California can’t pass the creation of an exchange,” Weinberg said, “then eventually the feds will step in and do it.”

Schwarzenegger has been a longtime supporter of health care reform and contributed to California’s reform effort in 2007. Many times when politicians leave office, Weinberg said, you have to look at future endeavors that might influence or color their final decisions in office — but that doesn’t apply in Schwarzenegger’s case, he said.

“Thinking about it through the lens of his legacy,” Weinberg said, “I don’t understand how he could veto the bill.”

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