HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE

Friday, September 12th, 2003

SB 2 (BURTON) PASSES THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE

* Landmark Bill Goes to the Governor

Tonight, the California legislature passed SB 2 (Burton), to extend coverage to one million uninsured workers. The unofficial vote count in the Assembly was 46-31, on a strict party-line vote, with Assemblymembers Reyes (D) and Maddox (R) abstaining. The Senate vote was strict party line vote, 25-14. The bill now goes to Governor Davis for his signature.

The legislature also passed companion legislation, AB 1528 (Cohn/Frommer), “the Health Care Quality Improvement and Cost Containment Commission,” with bi-partisan support.

Over 18 million Californians get health coverage through their employer; SB 2 would use modest means, using the existing employer-based system and existing agencies and expertise, to expand coverage to up to 1 million more. Employers of 50 or more would be required to pay a user fee into a state health purchasing fund. Employers would get a full credit against the fee if they provide coverage to their workers, as the vast majority do now.

SENATE DEBATE

The California State Senate passed SB 2 (Burton) on a party line vote, 25-14, early in the day. The hour-long debate focused mostly on the potential impact on business, both positive and negative.

AUTHORS: Senate President John Burton began the debate with historical perspective, indicating that “this has been talked about since Earl Warren was Governor.” Senator Jackie Speier, co-author of the bill, described how she had been in the emergency room twice that week, once for her father, the other time for her daughter, and had wondered “what if I didn’t have health insurance?” She stated that “everybody in this room would be clamoring for this bill if *we* didn’t get health insurance through our employer.” She was clear that 95% of businesses were exempt from the bill, and there would be significant benefits to businesses.

OPPONENTS: Republican Senators that spoke against included Senator Sam Aanestad, who again stated that this was a “misuse of the power of the state,” and asked “what about a food mandate, a housing mandate,… a clothing mandate.” Senator Rico Oller called the bill “socialized medicine, while Senator Jeff Denham said that “the timing of this bill is very inappropriate.” Senator Tom McClintock, running for the Governor, stated that “every person ought to have access to health care” but proposed his own plan of “pre-paid tax credits.” Senator Charles Poochigian claimed that the savings from the worker’s comp was “illusory” and that this would further disadvantage business, and Senator Jim Battin agreed.

SUPPORTERS: Democratic Senators that spoke in favor included Senator Deborah Ortiz, who called this a “historic opportunity” and compared it to family leave and the minimum wage. Senator Sheila Kuehl stated that “this is a very good first step,” and there was a strong “interest of the state in health care” as a “public issue.” She raised her universal health care bill, SB 921, but that was for “another day, another year, another discussion.” Senator Dede Alpert stated that while she “struggled with this issue,” this is a step to fix the health care problem, and that we have two-three years “to implement this in the fairest possible way.”

ASSEMBLY DEBATE

Assemblyman Dario Frommer introduced the bill, stating that “it is not often that we can make history.” It “builds on our existing system of employer-based coverage, which now reaches 18 million workers.”

SUPPORTERS: Speaking for the measure was Democratic Assemblymembers Goldberg, Cohn, Wiggins, Yee, Lowenthal, Hancock, and Parra. Assemblymember Goldberg talked about the “health care system is in deep trouble… It is literally falling apart.” She stated that to get to universal coverage, she supported single-payer plan, other supported other paths, but either way, “I don’t think we get there unless we make this start.”

Assemblymember Cohn stated that “if health care was a patient, it would be on the critical list,” and “it is always the right time to do the right thing.” Assemblymember Wiggins also stressed that this is a “step that is long overdue.” Assemblyman Yee focused on the “relief for local government” that SB 2 would provide.

Assemblyman Lowenthal asked “if legislators opposed to SB 2 would go without” health insurance themselves. “Do they know where the county hospital is? Do they want to go there? Do they over-utilize the system, as has been implied of the insured?” Assemblywoman Parra made a similar case, that SB 2 would tell “one million Californians they have the same right as everyone of us on this floor” to get care.

OPPONENTS: Speaking against the measure was Republican Assemblymembers Cox, Bogh, Richman, La Suer, Mountjoy, Maze, Campbell, Haynes, Pacheco, Nakanishi, Benoit, Harman, Leslie, Wyland, Samuelian, and Keene. Republican Leader Cox and other opponents cited that the cost of this bill would be $7 billion, a Chamber of Commerce number that has been shown to be widely overblown, double-counting many costs and not taking into account tax breaks and write-offs. (The California Medical Association has the cost estimate at $1.9 billion.)

Assemblyman Richman stated that “SB 2 is the wrong way to go” and warned of “unintended consequences.” At least three Assemblymembers called the plan “socialistic,” with Assemblyman La Suer saying that “this makes Hillary Care lok like a right-wing conspiracy.” Assemblyman Mountjoy stated, wrongly, that “lots of folks don’t have insurance, but very few don’t get care.” Assemblyman Maze was also mistaken when he agreed, “we already heard that people do have access.” Assemblyman Maze decried policies that made us similar to “Western Europe. We don’t need to go there. We declared our independence.”

Assemblyman La Malfa stated this in discussing SB 2 extending health coverage, his wife’s stated reaction was “why go to college if you are just going to just give this to anybody with a job?” He himself asked “when did these things like health care become rights?… One small step on business, one giant leap toward Hillarycare.” Assemblyman Haynes said that he “was tired of being in the minority,” and hoped that a similar political change would occur similar to the one in Washington, DC, after the last attempt at health care reform. Assembly Samuelian said that the California legislature would be “infamous” for passing such a measure.

Assemblyman Pacheco and Harman focused on the fact that its impact would be narrowly targeted, exempting 95% of businesses. Assemblyman Wyland agreed, and gave a more thoughtful opposition than most, suggesting that “if this was done slowly over time, some businesses would adjust” to the requirements.

Assemblyman Frommer closed by countering some of the mistaken numbers used, and by assuring “this is not a reach. This is a common sense approach.” In response to the comparison to the Clinton plan, he stated that this was far more similar to the plans of two California Republicans: Governor Earl Warren in 1953, and President Richard Nixon in 1972.



Anthony E. Wright

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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