Democrats Unveil New Health Care Plan

Democrats in Sacramento have been tinkering with their health care reform plan, and Tuesday they unveiled a new proposal that looks a lot like the one Governor Schwarzenegger's proposing. That's given legislators reason to hope they'll actually pass a reform deal this year. KPCC's Julie Small has the details.

Julie Small: The Democrats' plan would insure all adults in California who are legal U.S. residents ... and all children, no matter what their immigration status. The plan would also let a family of four that earns up to $62,000 a year – that's three times the poverty level – to get comprehensive medical coverage through the state. And the plan says everyone with a job could get insurance through work. Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez says the plan's a winner.

Assemblyman Fabian Nunez: It's here. It's affordable. It's do-able. It protects each and every person in this state. And it levels the playing field to some extent to people in the business community to people who are already offering health insurance to their workers.

Small: The plan "levels the playing field" by charging different businesses a different payroll "fee" to cover health insurance for workers. Smaller businesses would pay a two-percent payroll "fee." Larger companies would pay up to six-and-a-half percent. That's a lot less than the seven-and-a-half-percent fee that Democrats wanted to charge all businesses.

But sliding the fee scale means less money to pay for health insurance. The Democrats say they'll fix that with a $2 tax on packages of cigarettes. Senate leader Don Perata acknowledged he's opposed tobacco taxes in the past. But he says with Republicans unwilling to consider any tax and a new legislative session quickly approaching ...

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata: We're run out of road. There are very few options.

Small: Perata says a tobacco tax is a better alternative than the governor's plan to pay for health care by leasing the California lottery – or passing a general sales tax.

Perata: The other thing to keep in mind. We're entering into one of those dark periods of the California economy. So we better do this now and move this off the table to get our attention centered on the budget which will dominate next year's theme.

Small: The need to "move this off the table" pushed the Democrats to give in on one point. Their plan now includes Governor Schwarzenegger's demand that all Californians carry health insurance. Labor groups don't like that because they say there's no guarantee that insurance companies will offer comprehensive or affordable plans. But the requirement is now in. Warts and all, Democrats plan to introduce their health care reform plan in the Assembly on Thursday. They hope to vote on it by Thanksgiving Day.