Going through the gauntlet again…

HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

SENATOR KUEHL’S UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE BILL PASSES STATE SENATE
* SB840(Kuehl) clears Senate on a largely party-line vote
* Legislature slated to vote on leadership-sponsored health reform legislation Thursday
* Michael Moore to be present at Sacramento premier of “SiCKO”

New on the Health Access WeBlog: SCHIP Update; Medi-Cal Documentation Requirements; “Hidden Tax” Research; Businesses for Insurance Reform and Higher Medi-Cal Rates?

SB840, which would establish a single-payer health care system in California , passed the state Senate Wednesday 22-14, a near party-line vote.

Most Democratic Senators were in support. Democratic Senators Denise Ducheny and Mike Machado, both serving on the Budget Conference Committee, were not present when the vote was taken. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, voted “no’’ on the measure.

It’s the fifth year in a row that Sen. Sheila Kuehl, of Santa Monica , has introduced the measure, which she considers the “gold-standard” for health care reform. While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure last year, she has said she wants to continue to organize the movement, and holds out hope that she can convince him otherwise.

DEBATE

In the staid Senate, there was little debate on the measure. Being its fifth time around the block, Capitol watchers expect nothing other than a party-line (or near party-line) vote on the measure.

However, Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley , did take the opportunity to attack the nationalized health care systems of other countries.

“There’s no question that we have problems with the high cost of health care, but to say we have the lowest standard of health care, or that we’re at the bottom of industrialized nations is not a true statement,’’ Aanestad said.

Contrary to what Aanestad said, though, the U.S. spends more on health care, but gets less, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The latest numbers show that the U.S. spends $7,800 per capita on health care, nearly twice as much as Canada ’s $4,050; the UK spends $3,250. Meanwhile, the US ranks 21st in life expectancy ( Canada ranks 7th and the UK ranks 18th), and 23rd in infant mortality behind Canada and the UK .

Aanestad went on to say that the “the only universal health care …(seen) in the US is the outmoded and substandard Veterans Administration Health Care system. Do you really want your American health care to end up in the Veterans’ Administration model?”

Lastly, Aanestad proclaimed that “if I needed bypass surgery, I could not get it (in Canada) because I’m over 60 years old and I would be put on a waiting list because I’m too old to qualify for bypass surgery.’’ On the other hand, in the U.S. “If I needed bypass surgery, I’d have it tonight,’’ he said.

Sen. Kuehl contradicted this statement.

“This notion that waiting lists exists somewhere else, but not in America ? Maybe for the privileged few of us who can get right in. But there are a lot of people in my district – the richest district in the state and the one with probably the highest number of people insured – who are still on waiting lists, whether with Kaiser, or with Blue Cross,’’ said Kuehl, who represents Santa Monica.

“You can’t just run right in and get your bypass surgery,’’ Kuehl said.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, quoted Walter Cronkite’s description of the “health care system,’’ saying “I don’t know why we call it a health care system. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t caring, and it sure as hell isn’t a system.’’

Simitian stated that he wasn’t sure that a single-payer solution was the only or best solution, versus other ideas. But, he said, the author’s efforts on SB840 helped bring about this year’s focus on health reform, and “whether or not I believe it is the best way or only way, I do believe it’s an important way to get to some meaningful solutions for the 4.5 to 6 million Californians who are without health insurance on any given day.’’

Kuehl closed debate on her bill by referring to “a truly American’’ single-payer system: Medicare.

“If it weren’t for Medicare, a truly American comprehensive system, we would be frightened in my age cohort (she’s 66) and above.’’

That’s because insurance companies have become “very creative in denying care’’ dropping patients when they are sick, or rejecting consumers who apply for policies simply because they’ve had a history of taking certain prescription drugs in a time long ago.

The passage of Kuehl’s bill marks the first of a series of health-reform related bills that must be passed out of the Senate and Assembly this week.

OTHER HEALTH BILLS AND EVENTS

AB8 (Nunez) and SB48 (Perata), which both aim to expand health coverage by relying on the existing system of employer-based insurance, is expected to be heard Thursday. Several other health-related bills must also pass a floor vote by Friday in order to be further considered this year.

The passage of Kuehl’s bill and consideration of the leadership proposals also serve as a prelude to Michael Moore’s new movie SiCKO, about the failures in the American health care system, which is expected to premiere in Sacramento on Tuesday, with the documentary film maker testifying before Kuehl’s committee next week.

Health Access will provide updates on both legislation, Moore ’s testimony and movie in the upcoming days.

For more information, contact the author of this report, Hanh Kim Quach, at hquach@health-access.org.

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

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