After the slightly off-color joke about Paris Hilton…

Governor Schwarzenegger revisited The Tonight Show last night, where he was introduced as “easily the most popular Republican in the entire country,” a phrase that has a bit more edge than Jay Leno is known for.

After suggesting that Jay Leno’s proposed 60th birthday idea of having a registered nurse jump out of a bran muffin was “kinky” (will CNA respond?) and admitting to watching all of Paris Hilton’s “movies,” the Governor talked about health care.

Jay: “On a more serious note: Health care reform. You have a plan here for health care in California. I’m sort of waiting for this Michael Moore film to come out, Sicko, where he talks about the American health care plan. How do you do it? It seems that the drug companies, and everyone, wants to fight this national health care.”

Arnold: “It’s a huge challenge. It’s one of the major, major challenges. As a matter of fact, it goes back to 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt talked about that he wanted health care for all Americans. And since then, the federal government has tried and tried and tried, and they haven’t come up with a way of doing it. So now the states are taking on the responsibility, and so here in California we have decided that this is the year of health care reform. Let us insure everybody, and let’s make sure that the insurance companies have to cover everybody, so they can’t refuse anyone anymore because of age, or because of some medical history. That’s what we are trying to accomplish.” [Applause]

Jay: “My mother-in-law was in England and had a heart attack, a stroke, and was stuck there for three months, and in the three months I got a bill for $4500, for three months. And then a friend of mine here broke his leg: it was $18,000 for three days, with the emergency room, etc.”

Arnold: “Absolutely, it’s a real problem, not only that, it is such a broken system. For instance, here in California, we have people that are insured, that are afraid of losing their insurance because of some illness they may have; people that are uninsured that are afraid of [not?]getting insurance. For it’s a disastrous situation. And the people who are insured, like you and I and many of the people here, are paying for the uninsured. There’s 6.5 million people that are uninsured. They are paying a hidden tax. So if you pay premiums, or for out-of-pocket expenses, co-pays, deductibles, all of those things, there’s a fee added, and tax added. The private sector, businesses in California, right now are paying $14.7 billion of that hidden tax. So that’s unfair. What we want to do is lower the health care costs, insure everyone, and make sure that all insurance companies cover everybody who wants to be covered.”

First of all, it’s not often that even this level of discourse about health policy and the uninsured is on The Tonight Show.

Its noteworthy how Governor Schwarzenegger continues to cite the federal government’s failure on this issue, as he has on other issues. His biggest applause line was stopping the insurance companies from denying people because of their health status–it’s an important principle.

Jay Leno made strong points, talking about Great Britain’s National Health Service in a favorable light, and correctly looking at the drug companies and other vested interests as potential opponents. Getting actual hospital bills these days is a shocker, and can make reformers out of most of us. Maybe Jay can get the Governor to reconsider SB840?

The Governor’s rhetoric about the “hidden tax” always troubles me, because the way he says it, it seems like he is blaming the victim–the person who happens to be uninsured. We agree that we all pay more when McDonalds and Jack-In-The-Box pay less. But then that’s the rationale for having a minimum employer contribution that is close to the cost of coverage, something that the Perata, Nunez, and Kuehl proposals have.

The Governor usually uses the “hidden tax” argument to justify the individual mandate, but he didn’t explcitly bring it up. In fact, he said, closing out this topic, that he wanted to find a way to lower health costs, to insure everybody, and to “make sure insurance companies cover everyone who wants to be covered.” Doesn’t sound like he’s completely comfortable talking about the practical issues with the individual mandate.

Overall, some of his statements were things we could have said. Whether he will follow through with policies that actually achieve those goals is the real question, what we need to keep him accountable on, even if he rejected previous efforts.

Regardless of what you thought about Governor Schwarzenegger’s statements, there’s going to be more of this discussion in the media in the next several months. Stay tuned, he’ll be right back.
Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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