New head of Senate Health eyes key elements of 2007 health-care package

Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who authored the universal-health-care bill that Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed last year, is the new chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. She told Capitol Weekly what she hopes to see in this year’s 2007 health-care package, and offers her take on what any health bill must contain in order to gain Senate approval.
Capitol Weekly: What must a health-care plan contain in order to win legislative approval?
Sheila Kuehl: At the very least, to win favor in both our houses there will probably have to be some requirement of participation by employers and employees. That is more balanced than shifting costs to consumers.
People have said, “Maybe we can work out something like they did in Massachusetts.” If people look at the so-called Massachusetts plan, Mitt Romney took a lot of credit for a plan that has not, and most likely will not, go into effect. It called on employers to contribute $50 per month per employee, in lieu of providing health insurance. There is no way to fund health insurance that way without a mass infusion of tax dollars.
In California, that would require an additional $20 billion to $25 billion. It is not even going to work in Massachusetts. In terms of a model, I don’t believe we have a model. The models are only nibbling around the edges.
What should we do to improve health care?
First of all, the best plan of all would be single-payer, because it solves all the problems that the governor has indicated he wants to solve. It covers the uninsured, it makes health care affordable, it requires everyone to participate and it expands choice so that you can choose any provider.
The governor has already announced that he will not sign single-payer again, but as the author of SB 840, I will bring that bill back and I will work either for a new initiative or a new governor. At this time, as the chair of the Health Committee, I will work with the governor and both houses on whatever stop-gap measures we can work through for the short term.
What could we do right now?
We could expand Healthy Families, and we could obtain more federal money. But I think we will have the most success in getting children’s health care improved; the governor has talked about improving children’s health care. All I hear is that people want to cut benefits and call it making health care affordable. When you need health care and you are not covered, when there are ‘doughnut holes’ and high deductibles in your coverage, then it’s not really coverage, and it certainly is not affordable.
Fifty percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States occur right now because of health-care costs, and more than half of them have insurance. The political will to fix this is in the Legislature. The question is whether it is in the governor.
What about costs? Is this a budget issue?
The budget committee will have a great deal of difficulty even continuing the expenditures that we have already undertaken. The population of impoverished and indigent people in the state is growing, the use of emergency rooms for primary health care is growing. And, in a convoluted way, the less you do about universal coverage, the more expensive is the cost of care for the uninsured.
Is a long-term fix for health care in California doable?
Everything is doable. The job is not to undo what we already have, or allow the administration to succeed in getting through any sham reforms.

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