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SPECIAL AUDIO REPORT: Belshe Discusses Prospects of Health Care Reform

Speaking at a recent Petris Center Symposium, Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe said she is “very encouraged” by Massachusetts legislation that aims to expand health care coverage to nearly all of the state’s uninsured residents and the “robust” policy dialogue about whether similar legislation might be possible in California (Rebillot, California Healthline, 5/1).

Massachusetts’ legislation would require all residents to purchase health insurance by July 1, 2007, and would create a low-cost, state-subsidized health insurance program for residents with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level (California Healthline, 4/27).

According to Belshe, California policy makers should “be mindful of our own unique circumstances, the profiles of our individuals who are uninsured, [and] businesses,” adding that the most challenging aspect of adopting Massachusetts’ model in California is the state subsidies required to cover a larger percentage of the population. Belshe noted that just over 50% of California employers help fund health insurance for workers, compared with two-thirds of Massachusetts employers.

In addition, California policy makers and the public are going to “need to address and reach consensus” on the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants, another unique and sometimes overlooked aspect of California’s uninsured population, according to Belshe. “To the extent that the enforcement of a mandate, such as Massachusetts has proposed, relies upon enforcement through the tax code, if you have a lot of workers outside of the tax system, obviously that raises some questions in terms of enforcement,” Belshe said (California Healthline, 5/1).

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