HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Wednesday, April 30th, 2003
* MAJOR ACCESS EXPANSIONS PASS SENATE INSURANCE COMMITTEE:
The Senate Insurance Committee considered and passed two major proposals to dramatically expand health care to millions of California families, and to stabilize an ailing health system for everybody. As of this writing, both bills are expected to move to the Senate Health Committee, possibly as early as next week.
** SB921 (Kuehl), would establish a universal health care system in California similar to Medicare. Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) had a range of expert testimony, including John Shearer of the California Physicians Alliance and Betty Perry of the Older Women’s League. Dozens of both local and statewide organizations stated their strong support. Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi testified in favor of single-payer universal coverage, and urged both bills to pass to move the debate forward.
Opponents included the CA Association of Health Plans, which criticized the bill because it “promises too much,” that the stated administrative savings “defies belief,” and that the bill would replace “private competition in favor of a monopoly.” The CA Healthcare Association, representing hospitals, stated that the “risks associated with abandoning” the current system are not worth it. The CA Chamber of Commerce, and other employer and business groups, complained about the envisioned taxes. (Supporters restated that revenues raised would serve to replace the current expense of health premiums, deductibles, and other expenses.) The CA Association of Physician Groups stated that “a government-run system in not acceptable.” Some health underwriters from around the state turned out, wearing buttons against SB921.
The bill passed out of committee 5-3, with the Democrats voting in support, and the Republicans opposing. Senator Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) abstained, and in discussion expressed his concern about the current need to raise significant revenues to deal with the budget crisis, and how that needed to be prioritized first, before raising revenues for this plan.
** SB2 (Burton/Speier) would require employers to provide health care to workers and their families, or pay into a fund that would provide such coverage. Senate President John Burton presented the bill, followed by two working yet uninsured Californians, a janitor in Sacramento, and a retail worker in a supervisory position at The Gap in San Francisco. In addition to testimony by leaders of the California Labor Federation and the California Medical Association, about two dozen consumer, community and labor groups indicated their support.
Opponents included a full range of business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, CA Small Business Association, CA Restaurant Association, CA Farm Bureau Federation, and the Western Growers Association. They indicated their opposition to additional mandates on employers, as well as additional fees, citing the unaffordability of health insurance, and the impact on current jobs and job creation. Blue Cross, also in opposition, argued that some employers would switch to self-insured health plans under the federal ERISA law.
The bill passed out of committee 6-3 on a party line vote, with Democrats supporting, and Republicans opposing.
** Health Access California strongly supports both bills, which are expected to go next to the Senate Health Committee. Contact information for each of the member Senators is available at http://www.sen.ca.gov. The members are:
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), Chair
Sen. Samuel Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), Vice-Chair
Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley)
Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield)
Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta)
Sen. Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata)
Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier)
Sen. Liz Figeroa (D-Sunol)
Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter)
Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica)
Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles)
Sen. John Vasconcellos (R-Santa Clara)
Sen. Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood)
* BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY ACT UPDATE:
Health Access California and other organizations continue to seek additional supporters for the Budget Accountability Act, a proposed March 2004 initiative which would hold the Governor and Legislature more accountable to taxpayers in order to produce more responsible and timely State budgets.
CHAMBER FILES “STATUS QUO” OPPOSITION MEASURES: In the last week, the California Chamber of Commerce filed no fewer than five initiatives that would work to block reforms proposed in the Budget Accountability Act and keep California in budget gridlock. The purpose of these initiatives was explicitly stated in their text: “(d) Those who favor the status quo have a right to resist such efforts by placing competing measures on the ballot.” All five of the Chamber’s “status quo” initiatives contain “poison pill” provisions designed to kill the Budget Accountability Act. We expect that opponents of the Budget Accountability Act would collect signatures on behalf of one of these five proposals they have submitted.
BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY ACT TO BE REFILED: In response, proponents of the Budget Accountability Act will withdraw the current initiative before circulation and will refile the initiative with new language to counter the “poison pill” provisions as soon as possible. The principles of the act will be maintained. We continue to seek organizational endorsements and other support to back this important effort.
The Budget Accountability Act, although not formally in circulation, has already received favorable editorial support of its major provisions from both the San Diego Union Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News. It is supported by the California Congress of Seniors, the League of Women Voters of California, Health Access California, California State Parent Teachers Association, and labor unions from across the state.
Provisions include denying pay to legislators when the budget is late, and prohibiting legislative action on other items until a budget is passed; setting the threshold to pass a budget at 55% of the legislature; providing information to voters about the budget and their legislators’ votes; and maintaining a “rainy day” fund during good economic times to prevent major cuts in recessions. More information will be distributed as we move forward.
Anthony E. Wright
1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814
Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921