HEALTH ACCESS CALIFORNIA ALERT

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

HEALTH CARE HANGS IN BALANCE WITH ELECTION ONE WEEK AWAY

  • Proposition 72 Continues Lead in Field, LA Times Polls
  • New Ad Reveals How Taxpayers Pay for the Health Care of Wal-Mart’s Workers
  • Consumer Groups Take the “Wal-Mart Challenge”
  • Employers Come Out In Support of Proposition 72

Doctors, nurses, patient advocates, and consumer groups are on the airwaves and in the street making the case for Proposition 72, which would set standards for on-the-job health benefits, like the minimum wage does for pay.



YES ON PROP 72: The measure is intended to protect the health coverage that millions of Californians rely on now, extend such coverage to a million more California workers and their family members, and provide fairness to employers and taxpayers who are now paying for the health care of those employers that do not provide coverage to their workers. Supporters can read about the measure, donate online, and send E-mails to encourage friends and family to support Prop 72 at the campaign website, at:

http://www.yesonprop72.com

POLLING: Proposition 72 continues to lead in polls, although a significant percentage–about a quarter–of the electorate is undecided. The most recent Los Angeles Times poll shows the YES side leading 45% to 29%. The most recent Field Poll is almost identical, with the measure ahead 46% to 29%. Both polls are after weeks of polling by both the YES and NO campaigns.



That the measure is leading is generally good news for health advocates, but the outcome is not assured. “Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll Research director… said of Proposition 72: “If I had to guess, I would say it is likely to pass.” (San Diego Union Tribune, October 22nd) However, some observers believe that voters who are undecided generally tend to vote “no” on propositions, meaning this could be a very close vote. Whether that rule holds true is up for debate: “In California, well-publicized measures have overcome that rule to win, and the last proposition on this year’s ballot is among the best-known. The business interests that put Proposition 72 on the ballot are hoping for a ‘no’ vote because defeating the referendum would repeal a state law requiring employers provide workers health insurance. The ‘yes’ vote is leading in the polls, and John J. Pitney, Claremont McKenna College government professor, said the public is paying such close attention to health care issues that voters won’t automatically cast a ‘no’ vote on this proposition.” (Sacramento Bee, October 24th)



OPPOSITION ADS: The opponents of Proposition 72 recently put out a third ad, which again makes deceptive claims about the economic impact of the measure, and mentions the position of Governor Arnold Schwazenegger. Below are specific instances where the ad is simply false. You can see the ad, and a comprehensive fact-check, at:

http://www.yesonprop72.com.

  • The ad continues to falsely claim that that it create a “government-run health care plan.”
  • The ad claims that the cost of the measure is about $7 billion, but the source was the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), a company that the NO campaign paid $55,000 — commissioned as “Campaign Consultants.” Earlier this year, a judge found that the $7 billion cost figure was so “false and misleading” that she ordered the word “estimated” in front of the figure in the opposition’s ballot arguments.
  • The ad also claims that 150,000 jobs will be lost under Proposition 72. The same organizations–the Chamber of Commerce, the California Restaurant Association–have come up with similar dire, and false, predictions every time the minimum wage is increased. In 1996, these same opponents predicted that over 100,000 jobs would be lost over Proposition 210, a minimum wage increase. Yet in the year after the passage of the measure, jobs went up by 100,000 in the restaurant sector alone.



AD ON TAXPAYERS VS. WAL-MART: Proposition 72 supporters unveiled a new ad this weekend, highlighting a UC Berkeley study showing the California taxpayers pay $32 million in order to provide health care for the workers at Wal-Mart. Earlier today, Proposition 72 supporters held pickets at rallies in San Jose and Los Angeles, making the point that when large employers don’t provide health benefits to their workers, those costs fall onto taxpayers.



WAL-MART’s CHALLENGE: In Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, Wal-Mart denied it: “Bob McAdam, a Wal-Mart executive, said it was “totally false” that the company encouraged workers to apply for public benefits. “There’s no proof that any of our associates are on public assistance,” he said. “I defy anyone to prove it.”” (LA Times, October 23rd.) On Tuesday, Wal-Mart continued its opposition to the measure by contributing $500,000 to the opposition campaign.



Supporters of Proposition 72 took up the “Wal-Mart Challenge” presented by the company’s executive, by having several former Wal-Mart workers speak out, revealing that they relied on Medi-Cal coverage during their employment with the giant retailer. Documents reveal the systems that Wal-Mart has in place to facilitate their workers’ enrollment in public assistance programs. And a Georgia survey showed that over 10,000 children are in that state’s PeachCare program, over 10 times more than any other employer. More information is in a short report by the Consumer Federation of California, at:

http://www.consumerfedofca.org/index.fpl/550472/article/913.html

EMPLOYERS COME OUT IN SUPPORT: With the focus on large companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart that don’t provide health coverage to their workers and place that burden on taxpayers, it might be easy to miss that many employers have come forward to support the measure. Proposition 72 supports fairness for employers that do provide coverage, but are forced to compete against those that don’t. BELOW is a AP article on business that are supportive and neutral on the measure.





SOME EMPLOYERS SUPPORT HEALTH INSURANCE MANDATE

by STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press


SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, October 24th, 2004

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/the_valley/10002450.htm

SACRAMENTO – Andrew Ross runs two book stores in Berkeley and struggles to keep up with rising health insurance costs. But he supports Proposition 72, the Nov. 2 ballot measure that would require him to help provide coverage for his workers.



“We think health insurance is important; we want to keep it,” he says. “(But) the exact amount and nature of health care has become a matter of contention really, because it’s very difficult to afford providing it at levels we have done.”



He figures Proposition 72 would help hold down his costs by spreading the insurance burden among employers who don’t provide coverage or offer less generous plans than his company, Cody’s Books.



“It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a better solution than we have now.”



Proposition 72 would implement a law passed last year by the Legislature that would require employers with 50 or more workers to pay for at least 80 percent of the cost of coverage for employees who work more than 100 hours a month.



Companies with at least 200 employees would also have to cover their dependents, either by buying insurance directly or obtaining it through a state pool.



Supporters say it would provide coverage for about 1.1 million of the approximately 6 million Californians who lack health insurance.



The proposal has drawn heated opposition from much of state’s business community, particularly fast-food restaurants and some department store chains, which argue that it would mean higher prices and lost jobs without controlling health care costs.



“In a nutshell, we don’t believe it’s the answer to health care issues in California,” says Chris Brathwaite, a spokesman for Sears Roebuck and Co., which has contributed $400,000 of the $13.5 million raised by the measure’s opponents.



Most of the $8.1 million supporting the proposition has come from labor unions, but the ballot measure has at least a few supporters among owners of the state’s 1.1 million businesses.



“Proposition 72 says each employer will take responsibility,” says Spencer Karpf, owner and chief executive officer of Software Management Consultants, a Southern California company that provides temporary staffing for information technology companies. “That levels the playing field for everybody.”



Seventy percent of California employers offered health insurance to their workers last year, with as many as 99 percent of the largest firms paying for coverage, according to a survey released in March by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.



But only 79 percent of employees who worked for those employers were eligible for that insurance and typically they paid 30 percent of the premiums for family coverage instead of the 20 percent allowed by Proposition 72, the survey found. Single workers picked up only 14 percent of premium costs.



Sears, which has 29,000 employees in California, pays for most of the cost of covering its full-time workers, but doesn’t insure part-timers, although it is part of a business coalition that is looking for ways to provide that coverage, Brathwaite said.



“We have about 100,000 part-time workers who are uninsured at various sales outlets in the country,” he said. “We made a decision sometime back that it was virtually unaffordable to cover part-time employees.”



Sears is not alone. Only 49 percent of California employees worked for companies last year that offered health benefits to part-time workers and only 6 percent worked for employers that paid benefits for temporary workers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study.



But some employers manage to cover their part-timers, including Starbucks Coffee Co., which provides coverage for employees who work at least 20 hours a week.



“We believe that offering comprehensive health care coverage to part- and full-time (employees) does help in recruiting and retaining the best people,” said Audrey Lincoff, Starbucks’ spokeswoman. “This is a significant point of differentiation for Starbucks in today’s economy.”



Costco Wholesale Corp., which has 90 stores in California and about 28,000 employees, also covers part-timers and views employee health insurance as a plus.



“It helps attract good people,” said Jim Sinegal, Costco’s president and chief executive officer. “In the final analysis it’s good business.”



Neither company has jumped into the fight over Proposition 72, although Lincoff says Starbucks believes that employers have to take a role in solving the nation’s health care problems.



Sinegal says the ballot measure could be “pretty onerous” for some companies. “We don’t think it’s a good idea just from that standpoint, but we’re not politicians, we’re merchants.”



Barry Hermanson, the owner of a San Francisco temporary worker agency, says Proposition 72 will help employers who pay for comprehensive health insurance and those who wish they could but fear losing a cost advantage to competitors if they did.



It also will ease the impact on state and local government budgets caused by uninsured workers relying on hospital emergency rooms for their health care needs, he says.



“At some point, as it is with the minimum wage, you have to say what is a minimum accepted standard we will allow in our society.” he says. “We see an increasing amount of tax money being spent on public health because people are not covered anywhere else.”

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