HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Thursday, January 5th, 2006

STATE OF THE STATE LARGELY IGNORES HEALTH CARE & COVERAGE ISSUES

  • Focus on “Strategic Growth Plan”; Governor Schwarzenegger: “I Say, Build It”
  • Only Announcement on Health Policy: Letter to Congress on Prescription Drug Reimportation
  • Third Year in a Row Health Crisis Not Made a Priority

Tonight, in his State of the State address, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger laid out his proposals for 2006. After acknowledging “the mistakes I made” and “my defeat,” he reviewed his accomplishments and then mostly focused on a “Strategic Growth Plan” for the future.

The plan would borrow money through $70 billion in bonds to fund construction projects to build highways and other transportation systems, schools, water and flood control projects, courts, and other public works. He also mentioned some other issues, including education funding and a minimum wage increase. The speech is available at the Governor’s website, under “Speeches,” at:
http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov_homepage.jsp

“Our systems are at the breaking point now. We need more roads, more hospitals, more schools, more nurses, more teachers, more police, more fire, more water, more energy, more ports… more, more, more,” the Governor said.

HEALTH CRISIS IGNORED: Missing from his solutions, however, was any action on health care issues. For the third year in a row, the Governor ignored the health care crisis, or the problem that over six million Californians uninsured, and millions more are underinsured and thus don’t get the care they need because of cost. Despite some early press reports, he did not mention anything about children’s coverage, which he vetoed last year after stating during his campaign that he supported the goal.

Two peripheral references to health care was to his signing of the obesity-related legislation to ban soda and junk food in schools, and that since reducing traffic congestion reduces pollution, cleaner air can lower health care costs and prevent one in six children in the Central Valley from needing an inhaler.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: The Governor’s one statement on health care focused on prescription drugs: “I ask myself, what’s the quickest way that we can help the greatest number of people with the spiraling health care costs? I believe in the free market. I believe in free trade. I mean we buy food from overseas. We buy cars from overseas. Why not prescription drugs? So I call upon the federal government to permit the safe importation of prescription drugs. I say, let the free market work.”

The only action from this statement was a letter sent to Congress earlier this week, urging legislators to support pending legislation to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. This was not a new stance: the Governor stated his preference for federal action when he vetoed bills in both 2004 and 2005 to allow the state of California to facilitate the reimportation of prescription drugs. Governors in ten states, both Democrat and Republican, have already approved legislation at the state level to help their residents with reimportation. Governor Schwarzenegger’s letter, which some see as punting the issue to the federal government, is available here:
http://www.governor.ca.gov/govsite/pdf/press_release_2006/01-06_Drug_Importation.pdf

While health advocates welcomed his voice in the federal debate, they were disappointed that he did not make any mention of taking action at the state level. The state has the power, not only through reimportation but through directly negotiating with the drug companies, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. However, the fact that the Governor felt that he needed to mention prescription drugs means that the issue is very much alive. Senior, health and consumer groups will be working to negotiate with the Administration for a enforceable prescription drug discount program. For more information on this effort, contact Anthony Wright at Health Access California, at awright@health-access.org.

PREVIOUS STATE OF THE STATES: This is the third year in a row that Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to make any proposal on expanding health care coverage. This is unusual as many Governors, like those in Maine and Illinois, have made headlines with reforms they have championed, and most politicians across the nation have felt compelled to offer some health care reform plan. On the other hand, Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to acknowledge that there are over six million uninsured Californians, or the crisis of the health care system on which we all rely.

In 2004, the only reference to the words “health care” in the State of the State was as part of his discussion of worker’s compensation reform. In 2005, his only statement on health issues was on prescription drugs, announcing his legislation that relied on voluntary from drug companies. The legislature and voters rejected that proposal. Neither speech ever mentioned the uninsured or health care coverage in general.

UPCOMING EVENTS: The Governor is expected next Tuesday, January 10th, to release his Budget proposal for 2006-07.

Later this month, the national organization Families USA will be holding its annual Health Action Conference, on January 26-28th, in Washington, DC. California usually sends a sizable delegation to get briefed on state and federal issues, and the discussion will be no less relevant, with Medicaid cuts pending, and the problems with Medicare Part D drug benefit surfacing. For more information, or to register, visit: http://ga3.org/familiesusa/events/conference_2006/details.tcl

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

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