From the Ash Wednesday…

Several hundred folks in the health care world gathered today for the annual Insure the Uninsured Project (ITUP) conference. HHS Secretary mentioned the “awkward” timing of the event, so closely following the setback for health reform in Senate Health Committee.

Many of the panels were about describing various parts of the reform proposal, so the entire conversation was funereal, where we all talked about how great the deceased was, and even those discussions about the tough compromises and imperfections were bittersweet.

I had a chance to be the last speaker of the day to the final five folks still assembled, and tried to be upbeat about the big question, “what’s next?”

Let’s be clear: there’s no silver lining in our setback last week. A defeat is a defeat. And we lost perhaps the best chance in a generation to have health reform on a high-turnout ballot with a pro-reform constituency. It’s sad.

But it doesn’t mean we are done. We’ve come close before, and we didn’t go away, whether to expand worker coverage in 2003 (SB2) and 2004 (Prop 72), to expand kid coverage in 2005 (AB772) and 2006 (Prop 86), to pass a single-payer plan in 2006 (SB840), or to pass a “shared responsibility” reform in 2007 (AB8) or 2008 (AB x1 1).

None of these ideas are off the table: expanded public programs for children and adults, minimum employer contribution to health care, or even a single-payer system. The Governor added individual insurance market reforms to the mix, and now that’s on the table, in a way that’s never been before.

And the climate continues to be right. This isn’t 1994: the public still very much wants health reform; its a top presidential domestic issue.

Like each of the previous several years, we dust ourselves off, and keep working, and get closer. We can’t wait until the next potential ballot measure in 2010 to get started. We need to see what we can do this year in the Legislature in 2008, next year in 2009, as stages to getting to universal coverage by 2010. We know the direction we need to go, and we can get started now. Let’s go.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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