California Health Care Reform Plan Dies in Committee

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The State Senate health committee on Monday rejected the health care reform plan that Governor Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Assembly Speaker agreed to last year. KPCC's State Capitol reporter Julie Small says it was a lack of money that killed it.

Julie Small: It took Democratic leaders and Governor Schwarzenegger most of last year to finesse a health care reform plan they could agree on. The bill would have provided medical insurance for most of California's 6-and-a-half million uninsured.

It would have required employers to provide insurance to their workers, or pay in to a state fund that would do it. Fees on hospitals, employers, and employees would have paid for the coverage. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez authored the bill.

Fabian Nunez: We did the very best that we could. I don't know that you, given the circumstances, could have had a better product before you to consider.

Small: Speaking before the Senate committee vote, Nunez said he wasn't there to point fingers or hold grudges. But he did throw down the gauntlet.

Nunez: I would challenge the members of the Senate to come up with a plan that's doable, that can withstand the same type of scrutiny, the same type of analysis by the legislative analyst, and that is doable, that is going to respond to the needs of those poor families who have absolutely no health care today.

Don Perata: Just because we should doesn't mean we can.

Small: Senate leader Don Perata backed the health care reform plan until December. That's when the governor revealed state government was facing a $14 billion deficit. He proposed a 10% across-the-board cut in state spending. Then the stock market tumbled.

Perata: When people are as fearful and as anxious as I believe Californians and Americans are today, we had better tend to the business at hand, less we begin to look as though we don't have their interests at heart, but are looking at some future time when things will get better, while the bad times persist.

Small: Last week, the state Legislative Analyst's Office said the health care reform plan could cost more than the proponents had predicted – as much as a billion dollars more. Perata said it would be fiscally irresponsible to take on that risk when the Governor's proposing to cut Medi-Cal coverage for 165,000 of California's poorest children.