California’s Health Care Crisis

Nearly seven million Californians lack health insurance, or about every fifth person in the state. Big papers such as the San Jose Mercury News and the Sacramento Bee urged the state Senate Health Committee to pass the Núñez-Perata health-care reform bill, ABX1-1. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed the speaker and senate leader’s bill, which the State Assembly passed in late November.

The 11 members of the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Democratic Sen. Sheila Kuehl of LA, held a 12-hour hearing on ABX1-1 on January 23.  Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill, and the governor’s health secretary Kim Belshé were three of those who commented on the bill. The word was ABX1-1 was doomed due to a lack of votes. 

That outcome in fact was the case. The committee voted 10-1 not to carry the bill forward on January 28.  A yes vote would have paved the way for Californians to decide the bill’s financing mechanism in the November election.

Núñez has two options now. He can return with amendments and request a reconsideration of the vote. Or he can request a new vote on the health-care reform bill with no amendments, according to Carol Wallisch, Sen. Kuehl’s chief of staff.

A January 25 unsigned Sacramento Bee editorial blamed Big Tobacco and the California Nurses Association for the possible sacking of ABX1-1.  Under ABX1-1, the tobacco industry would see its tax bill hiked. That would likely cut cigarette sales (and profits). What horror! The CNA, in contrast, opposed the bill because it doesn’t go far enough. The CNA wants to boot private insurers from the health-care system altogether. ABX1-1 only limits insurers to spending no more than 15 cents of every premium dollar on administrative costs. (Administrative costs were 28 percent of California’s projected health expenditures in 2003, reported Drs. David Himmelstein, Steffie Woolhandler, and Sidney Wolfe in the International Journal of Health Services.)

Meanwhile, Kuehl’s SB 840 for a system of single-payer health care instead of the current system of multiple insurers is waiting to be heard in the Assembly appropriations committee. That process will begin this summer. But there is more to the story of health-care reform in California this year.

Grassroots support is building for a California constitutional ballot initiative in which voters can decide the fate of a single-payer health care measure this November. The California Health Security Plan is a single-payer system to provide every California resident with medical care: "no co-pays, no deductibles, and no premiums."

And the Plan does specify a funding source: the state’s general fund and other sources like the federal treasury. To qualify the measure for the ballot, backers need 700,000 valid voter signatures. Visit www.CaliforniansforHealthSecurity.org for more information.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.  Contact: <ssandronsky@yahoo.com>     

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