Come together, right now
We’ve been watching and waiting. We’re anxious to see if California’s governor and Democratic leadership will figure out how to accomplish the main task they set out for themselves at the beginning of this legislative session.
Eight weeks into a special session that was supposed to fix (or at least patch up) our broken health-care system, it’s suddenly starting to look like they might. Let’s hope so, because Californians spent $186 billion on health care in 2006—that’s about twice as much per capita as most industrialized nations in the world. The state has 6.7 million people with no health coverage, and 780,000 of those are children.
Politics being the art of compromise, it’s time the two sides came together and made a deal. We say this despite the fact that our preference by far would have been to see a single-payer system become law, something like the one Sen. Sheila Kuehl put forth last year. Though such a plan passed the Legislature, it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the Democrats didn’t have the votes for an override.
Since single-payer is not going happen anytime soon, for now it’s time at least to enact some basic reforms.
The first proposal is the governor’s $14 billion plan requiring that everyone in the state have coverage, with both employers and employees contributing. This plan relies heavily on a scheme to make $2 billion a year by privatizing the lottery.
Well, the Democrats never liked the idea of mandating coverage and have always been against the lottery idea. (Indeed, a recent report by the Legislative Analyst Office questioned the governor’s revenue estimates from the lottery, so that idea has basically been put to rest.)
Next we have a plan backed by the Democrats—Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. They want employers to pay a minimum 7.5 percent of the costs of health-care reform, and the governor has said that figure must be below 4 percent.
That’s where negotiations broke off, until a few days ago when the Democrats conceded to the governor on the mandatory-insurance aspect, Schwarzenegger said he might agree to a new tax on tobacco products that would add to the pot, and both sides moved toward the middle on how much employers would pay.
Tuesday (Nov. 6), Assembly Republicans unveiled a bill of their own—co-authored by Chico’s Rick Keene, reintroducing some earlier proposals. This plan includes tax-free health-savings accounts; a tax credit (15 percent!) to employers offering coverage; health-care deductions off state income taxes; and out-of-state insurance shopping.
Meanwhile, the November clock keeps on ticking. The sides must agree by the end of the month, since it takes that much time to ready a ballot initiative for a public vote in November 2008. (The legislators don’t have the votes to put health care on the ballot themselves.) For the sake of California’s uninsured families, let’s hope they make a deal soon.
As usual, it all comes down to time and money.