A POST-PRIMARY LOOK AT THE PROSPECTS FOR HEALTH REFORM

  • Democratic nominee Angelides highlights health care in acceptance speech, goes after “HMO profiteers” and the goal to “extend coverage to every Californian.”
  • Governor Schwarzenegger speaks in rare comments on health issues during Q & A; commits to work for “health care for every citizen” as “the challenge for me for next year”
  • Stark contrast on health reform issues for November
  • Comments wanted: National citizens’ working group preliminary recommendations

The race for governor now shifts to the November ballot, now that the primaries behind us. Both candidates, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Treasurer Phil Angelides, have mentioned health care reform is among the top priorities in the state. Both of their comments suggest a vigorous debate on health issues this fall, leading to major debate in 2007 about comprehensive health reform.

Health and consumer advocates, grassroots activists, and community members have been active in getting both statewide and legislative candidates to talk about health care issues. Below is a list from Health Access California of six suggested questions to ask any and all candidates running for office on key health issues:
http://www.health-access.org/advocating/healthqs.htm

A PRIMARY GOAL: ANGELIDES ON HEALTH
The primary campaign for the Democratic nomination focused more on negative attacks than on much on substantive issues. Education, taxes, and the environment gained more prominence than health care in the primary campaign debate.

That said, health care was not ignored. State Treasurer Phil Angelides stated that the uninsured need to be covered, and even supported the concept of a universal, single-payer system. In separate speeches to delegates at the Democratic convention and the California Chamber of Commerce, Angelides highlighted the importance of universal health care. Here’s what he told the Chamber of Commerce:

“I’m going to ask you to join me in forging a comprehensive health care plan for our state. Together, we’ve got to cover all children, so they go to school healthy and ready to learn; we’ve got to crack down on the HMO profiteering that jacks up premiums for businesses and workers; and we’ve got to move toward a universal health care plan that controls costs and makes us competitive in the global economy.”

Angelides also mentioned health care as an important issue Tuesday night in his victory speech, saying he would to go after “the HMO profiteers” and extend coverage to every Californians, as part of his vision of the “California Dream.”

To see Angelides’ health care platform, click here:
http://www.angelides.com/issues/health.html

SCHWARZENEGGER SPEAKS ON HEALTH ISSUES

In contrast, Governor Schwarzenegger does not mention health care reform among the key issues that are part of his “vision” on his campaign website. He does list some health care items under his “good government” record, mostly spotlighting his work on obesity:
http://www.joinarnold.com/site/c.owL2KgN3LxH/b.1727873/k.741D/The_Record_Good_Government.htm

Yet there are signs that the Governor has begun to think about health issues seriously. Last week, Schwarzenegger told Sacramento State University students, at the end of a question-and-answer session, that his goal for 2007 (if re-elected) would be “to create health care for every citizen.” For a someone who has spoken very rarely on health issues, he showed surprising aptitude by noting that California was different than Massachusetts , especially in terms of the scale of the crisis with regard to the number of uninsured.

Here is a transcript of what the Governor Schwarzenegger said in response to a question on students graduating and needing health coverage, on the recently-passed Massachusetts proposal, and on state-based universal health care:

A. Well, as you know, it has been a huge struggle for years to get that done. And there have been different versions introduced, and it never got done because they were always maybe too extreme, one was too extreme in one way and one in another way. I think that’s why when I came into office I said the most important thing, while we are debating that issue, the most important thing is that our children ought to be insured. That’s why we expanded on the Healthy Families, we put more money into the Healthy Families program to reach out to kids. And that’s why this year even, we put an extra 70 million plus into the budget to start a program where we can reach the other 400,000 kids that are eligible for the program to be insured, but we haven’t reached yet, because for various different reasons. And so we are now trying to go out and reach those kids.

But while we are doing that, this year we are studying and working together with all the different groups in order to create health care, because I want to really go after that. This is the challenge for me for next year, to create health care for every citizen, because we still have 6.5, 7 million people in this state that are uninsured, and I think that we have to insure them. And I think that it’s a big challenge, it’s not going to be as easy as Massachusetts , because Massachusetts only had 700,000 uninsured, so we have 10 times as many.

But I think that we can really conquer that problem once and for all if everyone works together. It means that the employers have to put money in, I think that the employees have to put money in, and I think that the government has to put money in. I think that is those three entities work together I think that we can solve this problem.

Okay. Thank you very much, everyone, for listening. Thank you. (Applause)

These comments were first highlighted last week by KQED reporter John Myers in his “Capital Notes” blog, where he noted “The governor said he was currently studying the issue. And while it sounded like he favors something akin to an employer mandate program, it’s important to remember that Schwarzenegger campaigned against a 2004 ballot measure that would have required large businesses to provide health insurance.” The blog report is at:
http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/2006/05/guest-lecturer-schwarzenegger.jsp

A STARK CONTRAST

The Governor did actively campaign against Proposition 72, which resulted in the repeal of requirements for employer coverage, which would have expanded insurance to 1 million uninsured Californians and protected the coverage of millions more. In contrast, Treasurer Angelides actively supported and campaigned for Proposition 72.

Treasurer Angelides’ website mentions other health issues that make a distinction between the two candidates. The Treasurer cites his opposition to the Governor’s original 2003 budget proposals to cut access to health care for 100,000 California children, and the Administration’s approval of a Wellpoint/BlueCross-Anthem merger, with including “excessive and obscene” executive bonuses.

Despite the clear record on health issues, Governor Schwarzenegger’s comments last week suggested that the health care debate may get more interesting between the two candidates.

It is up to Californians who care about health care to insist that both candidates offer their detailed views on health reform, by asking questions in candidate forums, writing letters to the editor, and otherwise insisting that they address this urgent issue.

NATIONAL EFFORTS TOWARD UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

The effort to bring about a robust conversation on health care is not just at the state level. The Citizens’ Health Care Working Group, which has held forums across the country and solicited comments about health coverage, has released its interim recommendations. The six recommendations include:

  1. That all Americans have affordable health care. This embraces the notion that increased taxes may have to be a part of the solution.
  2. Defining a “core’’ benefit package, that includes preventive services, primary care, acute care, prescription drugs, education and disease management. Includes both physical, mental and dental health.
  3. Guaranteeing protection against high health care costs – particularly high out-of-pocket costs.
  4. Supporting integrated community health networks.
  5. Promoting efforts to improve quality of care and efficiency.
  6. Restructure end-of-life services are financed and provided.

To read more, pleave visit: http://www.citizenshealthcare.gov/recommendations/interim_recommendations.pdf

The public has until August 31st to comment on the interim recommendations. Public comments will be accepted online via email: citizenshealth@ahrq.gov, or snail mail at:

Citizen’s Health Care Working Group
Attn. Interim Recommendations
7201 Wisconsin Ave., Room 575
Bethesda , MC 20814

For questions or more information, please contact Hanh Kim Quach, policy coordinator. 916.497-0923 x 206 or hquach@health-access.org.

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