HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

KUEHL BILL PASSES SENATE INSURANCE COMMITTEE;
HEALTH ACCESS BRIEFINGS ON HEALTH COVERAGE & HOSPITAL FINANCING

The new debate over health coverage kicked off today with a Senate committee vote on SB840 (Kuehl), to establish a single-payer universal health insurance system. (See item below) Other bills have been introduced and will be discussed as the year progresses, including proposals that health consumer advocates strongly support, such as an effort to expand coverage to all children, and oppose, such as a proposal for an “individual mandate” of coverage.

SAC BRIEFING ON HEALTH COVERAGE EXPANSION: In order to assist advocates and legislative staff in evaluating these proposals, Health Access is sponsoring a briefing THURSDAY, APRIL 7th, at 1:30pm to 3:30pm, at Room 2040 of the State Capitol, in Sacramento. Entitled “THE NEW HEALTH COVERAGE EXPANSION DANCE: TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK: A Health Consumer View of Current Legislative Proposals to Cover Uninsured Californians,” the convening features Dr. Bree Johnston from California Physicians’ Alliance on SB 840(Kuehl); Deena Lahn and Kristin Golden Testa of the 100% Campaign on AB772 (Chan)/SB437 (Escutia) and the effort to cover all children; and Beth Capell and Anthony Wright from Health Access on problems with the “individual mandate” in AB1670 (Nation/Richman).

L.A. BRIEFING ON HOSPITAL FINANCING: While advocates work to expand coverage, they continue their efforts to support the safety-net providers that care for the uninsured, like public hospitals. Southern California advocates that want the background on the controversial federal Medicaid waiver on hospital financing are invited to another Health Access briefing: “HOSPITAL FINANCING: An Informational and Strategy Convening for Health Advocates” will be on Monday April 11th, from 1:00pm till 3:00 pm at the auditorium at SEIU 660 (500 S. Virgil St., Los Angeles.) The briefing will go over the specifics, explain what the proposed changes might be, provide the latest update on the negotiations, and what the impacts are. Speakers include Rachel Kagan of the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, Jonathan Freedman, County of Los Angeles, Yolanda Vera of LA Health Action, and Kathy Ochoa of SEIU 660. The conversation will also talk about strategy, about how advocates can help ensure that California gets its fair share of hospital funds, and that all Californians, including the uninsured, insured, communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and other populations get the hospital care they need. Please RSVP to Idabelle Fosse at idabelle@health-access.org or 213-748-5287.

For other events of interest to health advocates, go to the online Health and Budget Advocacy Calendar:http://www.health-access.org/calendarhome.htm

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE BILL, SB840, PASSES FIRST COMMITTEE

The California Health Insurance Reliability Act, SB840(Kuehl), which would institute a statewide, universal health insurance system, was passed out of Senate Banking, Finance, and Insurance Committee, chaired by Senator Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco).

The vote in the committee was 7-4 today, on a straight party-line vote, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing. The bill is next slated to ne heard in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday April 20th, at 1:30pm. Organizational letters for support are due to the committee Thursday, April 14th by noon.

THE SUPPORT: Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) introduced her bill with both an overview of the health care crisis, and of her bill as a solution to the problem. She pitched the bill as a way to more efficiently use the health care dollars now spent to cover all Californians without many of the financing and access issues that now threaten care for everybody.

To outline the problem, she had a representative of CalPERS, the third-largest purchaser of health care in the country, to give an overview of the problem of rising health care costs, and how addressing these costs is such a challenge for even the most powerful actors in the health care marketplace. A California citizen gave stirring testimony about how she was forced into bankruptcy after a medical emergency, even though she had coverage.

To support the solution, Dr. Richard Quint of California Physicians Alliance described the merits of CHIRA. He was followed by dozens of organizations that stated their support, including: Health Access California, Gray Panthers, SEIU, California Teachers Association, United Nurses Association of California, Resources for Independent Living, Consumers Union, Congress of California Seniors, California School Employees Association, Older Women’s League, Congress of Racial Equality, California Commission on the Status of Women, Friends Committee on Legislation, Vote Health, Health Care for All, National Association of Social Workers, Mental Health Association, Neighbor to Neighbor, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, and Progressive Democrats of America.

THE OPPOSITION: The opposition was led by the Chamber of Commerce, which stated their “opposition to a universal, single-payer health care system,” stating that they believe it would lead to “higher costs for consumers” and “greater bureaucracy, including several new state agencies and many new state employees.” The Chamber “fundamentally disagrees that a government-run system can be more efficient and cost less,” and that such a system would be “ripe for cost-overruns” that would lead to tax increases.

Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) called the Chamber’s position “disingenuous,” citing that they opposed SB2 because they didn’t want the burden of health coverage on business, yet they also opposed this solution where the cost would be shared throughout society. He asked to be added as a co-author, stating that “I don’t expect this to be more efficient, or provide better care, but more people will get care. We need to figure out a way to cover all the people.”

Senator Speier similarly challenged the Chamber, which admitted under questioning that they have not been supportive of any policies to address rising costs or access to coverage, although they were currently doing an “internal analysis” of what they would support. When Senator Dave Cox (R-Sacramento) raised the issues of low Medicare and Medicaid rates as cost driver, Senator Speier also challenged the Chamber about why they didn’t support increased revenues in order to fund increased provider reimbursements. She was frustrated because the Chamber opposes any health coverage proposal, “and when we do something, you spend $20 million dollars to undo it.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses also opposed, which cited the vote against a single-payer plan in Oregon, and support of Health Savings Accounts and Association Health Plans. Other opponents included life and health insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, HealthNet, the Association of Health Underwriters, California Association of Health Plans, California Medical Association, and the California HealthCare Institute, which made the argument that such a plan would stifle innovation.

OTHER DISCUSSION: Senator Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) agreed that “while people may not like government to run their health care, the 7 million uninsured would like somebody to run their health care.” Responding to opponents claim about waiting times and other issues in Canada, Great Britain, and other countries that have universal health care, the Senator simply pointed out that “they provide all their citizens health care, at a lower cost.” He also referred to their better rates of infant mortality, longevity, and other public health indicators. “If you a wealthy American, we have the best system in the world. If you are poor, we don’t.”

Senators Cox and Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) cited their opposition to the measure, thinking it would create a “more broken system.” Senator Mike Machado (D-Stockton), chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, cited his support and said he looked forward to working with Senator Kuehl on the financing piece of the measure. Senator Speier closed the debate by indicating that Medicare is a system that may have problems, but “we don’t have millions of senior citizens without health coverage,” and many seniors are pleased with this “government-run” system.

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

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