Cover me

Last week the state Assembly voted 46-32 to pass state Sen. John Burton’s, D-San Francisco, legislation aimed at reducing the number of working Californians and their families who have no health insurance. The bill had earlier passed through the Senate 25-15. Now it waits to be signed by the governor. Not everyone is happy with the new bill, which will require that all medium-sized (20 to 49 employees) and large businesses (50 or more employees) provide their workers with health insurance, picking up at least 80 percent of the tab. Workers whose wages are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines would pay no more than 5 percent of the health coverage. The act will go into effect beginning in 2006 for large companies and in 2007 for the medium-sized businesses.

There are more than 6 million Californians without health insurance, 80 percent of whom are workers and their families. The medical bills of those without insurance are ultimately picked up by the taxpayers—via state-funded programs like Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families Program—and through increased health insurance rates. Our local state representatives, Assemblymembers Rick Keene, R-Chico, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, all voted against Burton’s legislation. “Socialist mandates,” cried Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas. Aanestad, an oral surgeon, told the Enterprise-Record he couldn’t understand why employers should have to pay for insurance that covers their workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Good question. But then why should the government (taxpayers) pay for round-the-clock insurance to cover Keene, LaMalfa, Oller and Aanestad and their families?

The state legislators are offered a choice of health care plans—various HMOs and the Public Employees Retirement System indemnity plans—for which the taxpayers pony up $226 a month for each individual legislator, $450 for the legislator and his or her significant other and $589 to cover the legislator’s family. Those contributions pay the entire premium for most plans; with the more extensive plans, the legislators must pay (with pre-tax dollars) the differences themselves. For dental coverage, the legislators get a choice of two dental plans—standard and enhanced—offered by the Delta Dental Plan of California. The standard plan is fully covered for legislators and their families and pays benefits starting at 70 percent and reach a full 100 percent in the fourth year—which means members of the Assembly have to be re-elected at least once to get family dental work for free. Orthodontics—braces for the kids—are covered up to 70 percent, with an upper limit of $2,500. The enhanced plan, for which the legislators must kick in a bit of their own money, pays 100 percent for most dental services and 80 percent for orthodontics with a $3,000 lifetime maximum. The Assembly and Senate members get a choice of two plans for their vision coverage, and as with dental, the state (you and I) pays for the entire cost of the standard plan, which provides one pair of glasses with a $130 frame allowance, an annual eye examination and $105 contact lens benefit. The enhanced plan covers two pairs of glasses and offers a $260 frame allowance.

Both Assembly and Senate members receive group term life insurance, paid by the state, offering death and dismemberment coverage up to $250,000 until age 75. After that senators get $162,000 and assemblymembers $125,000. That’s not all. Legislators in both houses get three fully (state) paid counseling sessions per year for alcohol and drug abuse problems, marital and family issues, emotional, personal and stress concerns, legal matters, financial and credit difficulties and child and elder care troubles. Sweet.