HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE

Friday, August 1, 2003

* STATE BUDGET TO BE SIGNED SATURDAY

* UPDATE ON THE BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

* SB 2 CONFERENCE COMMITTEE & TOWN HALLS SET

* BUDGET BATTLES WON; BUT THE WAR GOES ON

Governor Gray Davis is expected to sign the budget on Saturday, and he is not expected to make significant alterations. We will report on any line-item changes in the health area.

Health advocates should be proud of their accomplishments on the budget. Major health programs have survived no less than four round of cuts in just the last year–including the 2002-03 budget passed in August 2002, two rounds of mid-year cuts in March and April of this year, and now the 2003-04 budget. The Legislature has, in multiple instances, rejected proposals to cut over a million people off of Medi-Cal, and deny needed benefits to millions more.

Because of our collective work, the public now views health care as a top budget priority, right alongside education, in every recent poll. Legislative leaders, such as Assemblywoman Judy Chu, Chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health, and Senator Wes Chesbro, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee (and Subcommittee on Health), fought valiently against severe cuts, both in hearings and behind the scenes. The majority of both the Senate and Assembly took the courageous step of supporting tax increases to prevent these cuts.

Yet despite these significant victories, our current budget process allows a small minority to block the revenues needed to sustainably prevent these cuts. This has forced late budgets and significant cuts already, including cuts to public hospitals; doctors that serve Medi-Cal patients; the enrollment systems that get children and families covered; and to the number of adults on Medi-Cal, through the requirement of burdensome paperwork. Without revenues, additional major cuts are inevitable.

For health advocates, the stakes for the next year are significant: Either there will be a reckoning that will force the many devastating cuts that have been discussed, or health programs will be in a stronger position for having faced down the threat of a $38 billion deficit.

* A NEW FRONT: ACTION AROUND THE BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

The biggest challenge is to reform the budget process that helped create the current system of gridlock. Thankfully, the campaign around the Budget Accountability Act is moving forward well ahead of schedule, already gathering 500,000 of the 600,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the March 2004 ballot.

Those with petitions should submit them by August 8th to Californians for Budget Accountability, 1510 J Street, Suite 210, Sacramento, CA 95814. For more information about how you can help get signatures for this important effort, go to the campaign website, at: http://www.budgetaccountabilitynow.org.

The Budget Accountability Act is a comprehensive reform package to fix the state’s budget process and hold legislators accountable for passing a budget on time. It withholds the Governor’s and legislators’ pay when they don’t pass a budget and makes them stay in town and work on nothing else until they do. It will encourage responsible budget decisions by the legislature, keep voters more informed of how the state spends its funds, hold elected officials accountable for their actions, restrain partisan extremes, ease budget gridlock, and require a real “rainy day” fund to help balance the budget in hard times. Finally, it reduces the vote threshold for legislators to pass a budget from two-thirds to 55%. Only two other states routinely require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget: Rhode Island and Arkansas.

* BEYOND THE BUDGET: CONFERENCE COMMITTEE SET ON HEALTH CARE FOR WORKING FAMILIES

Even before the budget crisis, California had over six million uninsured people, over 80% from working families. Both houses of the California legislature has passed three bills that would comprehensively expand health coverage: SB 2 (Burton/Speier), AB 1527 (Frommer) and AB 1528 (Cohn).

A conference committee has been formed to hammer out details of a final bill, which would require employers to either provide health coverage to their workers and their families, or otherwise pay into a state purchasing pool that would do so. The conference committee includes: Senators John Burton (D-San Francisco), Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), and Sam Aanestad (R-Redding), and Assemblymembers Dario Frommer (D-Los Angeles), Rebecca Cohn (D-San Jose), and Robert Pacheco (R-City of Industry).

Organizations supporting SB 2, including the California Labor Federation, California Medical Association, Health Access California, and others, are sponsoring town hall meetings around the state to discuss these proposals. Other actions and activities are being planned in other areas as well. ATTACHED is information about town halls in:

* Orange County on August 7th;

* San Diego on August 9th;

* San Francisco on August 14th; and

* Fresno on September 11th.

Another key bill supported by Health Access California, SB921 (Kuehl), to establish a universal, statewide single-payer health system, has passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly Health Committee, as details are drafted about how the system would be funded. Contact us to find out about actions to build support for these reforms.



Anthony E. Wright

Executive Director

Health Access

1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814

Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921

awright@health-access.org

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

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