The stars aligning again…

All week, we’ve seen signs that while health reform stalled, the need and the urgency–and the opportunity–has not.

* We have had a Field Poll showing broad support for the proposed California legislation that did stall, and even the broad provisions that any major reform is going to need to do.

* A Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed health as a major election issue this year, outpacing many other pocketbook issues–and the startling factoid, picked up by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the LA Times, that 7% of Americans said they made a decision about marriage based on the need for health coverage.

* A Robert Wood Johnson study, as reported by Lisa Girion in the Los Angeles Times, that laid out the bare facts about the rise in health care costs and the decrease in the number of jobs that now come with health benefits. Yes, the worry that the polls found is based on real trends– people are appropriately more concerned about the status quo than the needed reforms.

* The playing field is set, the public is there, and so are many of the politicians. Governor Schwarzenegger made a strong commitment to revisit health care reform in the remaining years in his term.

The editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News may have cracked even the cynics, with their opinion piece today:

By all appearances, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan for health care reform died an ugly death on the floor of the Legislature in January.

But as Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max cracked in “The Princess Bride”: “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Besides a great movie reference, the Mercury News also provided another key element to a new possibility: the need to get legislation passsed this year, to set the stage for 2009. We appreciate their spotlight on the Health Access California-sponsored SB1522 (Steinberg), and there are other key bills that can provide real help for people and patients as soon as possible, and lay the foundation for further reform.

It’s not too late to resurrect the governor’s plan. And even though it might take a miracle to reform health care in California, it’s worth a shot in 2009.

That doesn’t mean the subject can be ignored this year. The Legislature has work to do now to set the stage.

Next year Karen Bass will be Assembly speaker, Darrell Steinberg will lead the Senate and someone other than George Bush will be in the White House. If public support for reform remains strong, the stars will be aligned for the governor to make another run at passing his comprehensive package.

According to a Field Poll released Monday, a whopping 72 percent of voters said they generally favor Schwarzenegger’s plan. And the need for reform continues to grow. Some 6.6 million Californians, 19 percent, are uninsured, and that number is certain to increase as the economy worsens. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Monday showed that every 1 percent jump in U.S. unemployment would cause the number of uninsured to rise by 1.1 million nationwide.

Two bills before the Legislature may give an early indication of the prospects for reform in 2009.

The first, Steinberg’s SB 1522, would set up what consumer advocates call an apples-to-apples comparison for individuals seeking private insurance coverage. It’s sure to draw intense interest from insurance companies, and it will test the governor’s willingness to collaborate across party lines.

The second, Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s SB 1440, would require insurance companies to spend a minimum of 85 percent of premium dollars on health care expenses. That’s a concept from the earlier reform package that insurance companies hoped was more than “mostly dead.”

Calling Miracle Max.

With all this momentum, I don’t think we need a miracle to get comprehensive health reform in 2009-10, just our work and commitment. It would help to have some movement, as the editorial points out, by putting some of the legislative building blocks in place.

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