There he goes again…

It’s not a surprise that Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee has a negative column about some of the health care bills on the Governor’s desk. He railed against Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempts at reform in 2007. But he was wrong in his analysis then, centering his criticism on how such reforms would be struck down by the courts. (And in fact when the similar Healthy San Francisco was upheld by the courts, the event went unnoticed by columnist Walters).

What is surprising was how much Walters simply copied talking points from Anthem Blue Cross and the Chamber of Commerce–and how he got basic facts just utterly wrong in the process, revealing a disturbing lack of basic fact-checking. In referencing two bills to implement the new federal health law, SB900/AB1602, that set up a new health insurance exchange, a new one-stop marketplace for consumers to connect with coverage, Walters states the exchange would take over Medi-Cal–which is simply false. He states it could unilaterally expand basic benefits and increase costs, which is false. And he hints it could be a big cost to the state, which is false–the exchange would be funded by federal funds to start up, and by fees on insurers after 2014. The column is a smear job, pure and simple. Just to be clear his opinion, he even uses the term “Obamacare,” a term only used by opponents.

The exchange would be a boon for consumers and for California–it would provide a way for individuals to easily purchase private coverage and get federal funds to afford that coverage. That’s why it is essential to sign the bills this year–so California has the time to get ready, so that our families and small businesses are ready on day one to draw down the billions in federal tax credits and subsidies to help make coverage affordable.

The bills also allow the exchange to negotiate with the insurers for the best possible price and value–much like large employers do now, giving small business and individual families some of the group discounts that large purchasers get. But that’s why Anthem Blue Cross and some other insurers are opposed–and hence the opposition.

The Sacramento Bee knows better. In fact, the Bee’s editorial board endorsed the two health insurance exchange bills, urging Governor Schwarzenegger to sign them. The board stated:

…he should sign two bills laying the groundwork for California’s health insurance exchange – the major piece of the national health reform legislation signed by President Barack Obama on March 23.

States need to be ready for business on Jan. 1, 2014.

While Massachusetts and Utah established state-based health exchanges before passage of the federal health care reform law, California’s Senate Bill 900 and Assembly Bill 1602 clearly mark the most important state legislation since the federal health care reform law passed.

Schwarzenegger should seal California’s leadership role by signing the bills sooner rather than later.

Three years to set up an exchange may seem like a lot of time, but it goes by quickly when you’re trying to set up databases and work with health insurers…

But it’s well worth it. The Massachusetts exchange, which began in 2007, has helped keep premium rate increases below the national average, reduced the number of people getting free care at hospital emergency rooms and has given the state the lowest share of uninsured residents (2.6 percent).

Under California’s proposed exchange, 3 million to 4 million Californians – including small businesses with up to 100 employees – who don’t have insurance or have insurance that is inadequate to meet their current and potential health care needs would be able to comparison shop in one place for a health plan – and access federally funded subsidies to make coverage affordable.

Under the two bills passed by the Legislature, Californians would get standardized information about insurance plans – in an easy to understand format showing what’s covered and what’s not and the cost – so they can make informed choices.

Equally important, the exchange would be able to bargain – as large employers and entities such as CalPERS already do – taking advantage of economies of scale to get better prices for consumers. This can be a powerful force for price competition in the market to the benefit of all Californians.

Many Californians would be eligible, based on their income, for a federal premium subsidy to help them purchase coverage through the health benefits exchange. California should not leave those federal dollars on the table.

While some states are suing to block implementation of the federal health law, California is at the front of the line to make it work for its residents.

Even as the budget remains stalemated, that’s an achievement – if Gov. Schwarzenegger signs the two bills.

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