HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE

Friday, August 22, 2003

MOMENTUM BUILDS FOR EMPLOYER COVERAGE EXPANSION

Actions Needed to Win SB 2; See Below for Meetings, Activities

As previously reported, a legislative conference committee is set to meet and unveil a new version of SB 2 (Burton), to extend coverage to working families. The bill would require some employers to pay a fee into a state purchasing pool to buy coverage for workers; those employers who provide health coverage to their workers would be exempt from the fee. (See below about meetings to get information about details as they come out.)

COMMITTEE MEETING SOON: The committee was appointed to reconcile differences with similar Assembly bills, AB1527 (Frommer) and AB 1528 (Cohn). The conference committee is made up of the Senators John Burton, Jackie Speier, and Sam Aanestad and Assemblymembers Dario Frommer, Rebecca Cohn, and Robert Pacheco. They are expected to start meeting sometime next week to officially consider the bill. If the conference committee approves the bill, it will be voted up-or-down on the Senate and Assembly floors.

STARS ALIGNING: Health advocates are very hopeful that a bill could be passed this year. Senate President John Burton has placed this as his highest legislative priority. For the first time in recent memory, most of the major stakeholders are in support of the framework, including the major organizations representing labor, doctors, consumers, hospitals, and even some insurers and employers. In the turmoil of the recall election, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has publicly come out in support of SB 2, as part of his overall budget package, since such a bill would help provide some budget savings. Rumors of a delay in the bill are only from those who seek to oppose it.

DETAILS TO COME: While it is likely that the reported bill will not be as expansive as the original versions of SB 2, the bill would extend health coverage to hundreds of thousands, if not over a million California workers, and probably to some families as well. Such a bill would establish an important principle that working families deserve health coverage, and would create a framework for additional expansions. Working with our allies, Health Access California has advocated to ensure that the bill meets the “first, do no harm” test: that the bill maintains key principles about coverage, and would not disadvantage existing coverage programs or safety-net institutions. Health Access will provide information about the details of the bills as soon as they are made public.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY: Health advocates have a exciting window of opportunity to make major progress on the issue of the uninsured. The legislative session ends in three weeks, on September 12th. Health advocates will need to be active and united in support SB 2 through the Assembly, with the Governor, and to defend it afterwards in an uncertain political environment.

MEETINGS TO ANSWER QUESTIONS, PLAN ACTIONS: We want to make sure that all supporters of the bills have the opportunity to ask questions about the content of the bill, address concerns, and be part of the planning for advocacy in the next two-three weeks. In this effort, potential supporters are invited to any on of the three meeting opportunities:

* FOR SACRAMENTO-BASED LOBBYISTS: There will be an in-person meeting in Sacramento this MONDAY, AUGUST 25th, at 12:30noon. It will be held in the conference room of 1127 11th Street, 4th Floor, California Labor Federation. We hope to be answer specific questions about the details of the bill, and plan lobbying efforts.

* FOR COMMUNITY LEADERS AND LOCAL ACTIVISTS: There will be a CONFERENCE CALL for folks interested in working support of the bill, on TUESDAY, AUGUST 26TH at 3:00pm. Local organizations are invited, and statewide organizations should feel free to have their local leaders participate, to also help plan local and in-district activities. The Dial-in Number is: (877) 214-0402. The participant Code is: 180405.

* FOR LOS ANGELES AREA ORGANIZATIONS: There will be an in-person meeting on THURSDAY, AUGUST 28TH, at 4:00PM, at Conference Room of SEIU 660, 550 S. Virgil Avenue, Los Angeles. In addition to addressing issues around the content of the bill, this will also deal with organizing and advocacy to get Los Angeles Assemblymembers in support.

What can advocates do?

* Participate in one of these meetings, to get your questions answers, and strategize about lobbying and media work.

* Call, write, fax Assemblymembers to urge them to support SB 2.

* Schedule meetings with Assemblymembers to indicate your support.

* Organize press conferences and other public events to spotlight the problems of the uninsured and in support of major a step in support of this.

* Identify and recruit other allies to also support SB 2. ATTACHED is a flyer designed to encourage small businesses to support the type of reforms in SB 2.

BELOW is an article from yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News describing the situation.



Posted on Thu, Aug. 21, 2003

Lawmakers to release health-insurance plan

LANDMARK BILL WOULD FORCE FIRMS TO OFFER COVERAGE

By Mark Schwanhausser

Mercury News

Racing the clock on the legislative session — and perhaps Gov. Gray Davis’ tenure — powerful California lawmakers are scrambling to pass a landmark bill that would force companies to provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of workers.

The debate could erupt anew today. Key legislative players hope to release their plan for a “play or pay” proposal that seeks to force companies to either provide health insurance to workers or pay a user fee so that the state could buy coverage for them.

“It’s an enormous challenge,” said Jill Yegian, a health care expert with the California HealthCare Foundation in Oakland. “Passage and implementation of employer-mandated coverage would represent a sea change in the way health care is structured in California.”

Such a “play or pay” plan could break ground, Yegian said. Hawaii adopted such a plan decades ago, long before federal rules made it more difficult to implement such a plan. And though Maine recently approved a plan, it has yet to take effect.

Proposals to extend health insurance coverage have been killed repeatedly over more than a decade by ferocious objections from business groups. Despite opposition again from the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, the sponsors hope to win swift approval in both houses before the monthlong legislative session ends Sept. 12. One goal is to pressure Davis to sign the bill into law or risk crossing his powerful labor allies just before the Oct. 7 recall election.

Though many health care proposals have foundered in the Legislature over the years, some business groups worry about the forces gathered behind this bill, which is expected to be called SB 2. One big reason: It’s being pushed by Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, the leader of the Senate, who wants to expand health coverage before he loses his post to term limits, said Richard Costigan, chief lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce.

“This bill has momentum,” said Costigan, noting that Burton has pushed his plan hard long before the recall became a reality. “Look at the fact that Sen. Burton is in his last legislative session. This is a legacy issue for him.”

Lawmakers have pushed a variety of ideas over the years to extend health insurance to more of the 6.7 million Californians who lack such a safety net. Some want to expand current public programs like Medi-Cal. Others envision a “single-payer” system that would create a state agency that would administer health insurance.

But the “play or pay” approach seeks to force more companies to provide insurance coverage to their workers, or at least pick up much of the tab. This bill — still under construction and the product of three bills with similar intent — hopes to chisel away at the nearly 1.6 million California workers who either aren’t offered coverage or can’t qualify for it because they are part-time or temporary workers.

In recent days the debate has been delegated to back rooms — and tempers have flared. Though proponents originally wanted to hold the first hearing on the proposal today, key Assembly and Senate players and their staffs were still arguing over it into Wednesday evening. A hearing is not expected until next week.

“Things are going up and down now,” said Richard Steffen, staff director for Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who co-sponsored SB 2. “There has been some disagreement, some blowups, but people came back to the table, and it appears that now things are looking OK.”

While the back-room debates rage, the public debate is on hold. To expedite the process, all three bills were stripped of details, leaving analysts and lobbyists to guess which features would survive.

For example, one of the three — AB 1527 — would exempt companies that employ 50 or fewer workers — which would spare about 94 percent of California’s companies that employ 27 percent of the state’s workers, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Also up in the air: how much of the premium employers would shoulder, the breadth of the coverage that would be required and the extent to which dependents would be covered.

“The devil is in the details,” said Alina Salganicoff, a vice president with Kaiser foundation in Menlo Park.

The state Chamber of Commerce said it will oppose any bill that mandates insurance coverage, calling such proposals “job-killers.” Some business groups are opposed to the proposal based on what the bills originally contained. The California Association of Health Underwriters said it might support a bill, but said the wording of the three bills originally was “horrendous.”

Critics also charge that the lawmakers are “ramrodding” through a bill that has ramifications for struggling businesses, as well as workers who need medical care and the economy in general.

“The reason behind that is recall insanity,” said Jeffrey Miles, president of the Association of Health Underwriters. “A bad bill on this issue will make energy deregulation look like a walk in the park.”

Proponent Tom Rankin, president of the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, rejects the notion that the bill is being rushed, saying the current retooling is the normal step in a long debate over three high-profile bills. He also scoffed at predictions that a bill would induce companies to hire fewer workers or hire more part-time or temporary workers to avoid insurance costs.

“The Chamber of Commerce says every bill is a job-killer,” Rankin said. “Anything that is a mandate they don’t like, and they call it a job-killer.”



Anthony E. Wright

Executive Director

Health Access

1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814

Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921

awright@health-access.org

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

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