Oct 4, 2007
San Jose Mercury News: Politicians Must Not Pass The Buck On Health Care Reform Financing
We're two weeks into Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special session of the Legislature. But don't hold your breath waiting for an imminent announcement of a health care reform agreement for California.
As the Oct. 14 deadline approaches, the governor spent the past four days of the special session in Shanghai, attending the Special Olympics Summer Games. He left negotiators to pore over the details of his just released 200-page "shared responsibility" health care plan, a document that he should have provided months ago.
By all accounts, the governor and Democratic leaders in the Legislature are still planning to go to the ballot with a reform financing plan for voters to decide upon.
That notion should make Californians cringe. And it demonstrates a fundamental failure by the governor and the Legislature to shoulder their shared responsibility of securing California's future.
Reports are that November 2008 is the earliest a vote could be held. If it failed - and a challenging election should be anticipated - Californians will have nothing to show for two years of talks on the state's biggest crisis.
The primary blame should rest squarely on the shoulders of Senate and Assembly Republicans, who don't seem to care that the entire state is clamoring for health care reform.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Chamber of Commerce have all come out in favor of the governor's concept of shared responsibility - everyone must have health insurance and costs should be shared.
The California Hospital Association, with hospitals spread throughout Republican districts, is backing the reform effort. So is a coalition of more than 50 CEOs of major California companies.
That monumental show of support by the business community should be a strong signal for Republicans to engage in the talks.
But instead of taking advantage of a prime opportunity to negotiate from strength, Republicans are remaining on the sidelines, to the detriment of all Californians.
That leaves the governor and Democrats in the Legislature with limited options. They should continue to explore creative alternatives to going to the ballot.
The complexities of a vote on health care in California should make even the best campaign consultants squirm. It's difficult enough for voters to sort out the issues on single-issue ballot measures. Imagine what will happen when consumer groups, small businesses, doctors, big businesses, hospitals, insurance companies and anti-tax proponents, among others, enter the tangled world of health care reform.
It won't be just hard-core conservatives who can be expected to vote "no." Single-payer advocates (the latest Field poll shows 32 percent of Californians favoring a single-payer approach), led by the California Nurses Association, will likely be opposed.
The symptoms of the state's health care woes are well documented: 7 million uninsured Californians, 800,000 of them children, the vast majority of whom are here legally; health care premiums that have doubled since 2000; more than half of the state's hospitals operating in the red.
California cannot afford to wait another year or more to stop this fiscal bleeding from damaging the economic health of the state. The Legislature and governor should do their jobs and vote for a health care reform package that includes a shared funding mechanism.