California Aims for Statewide Health Care
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
When Hillary Clinton introduced a health care plan this week, she addressed an issue that's widely expected to be important in 2008. It's especially important for her since she led a failed effort for national health insurance in the '90s. Many candidates are proposing ways to cover 47 million Americans without insurance. But some states may be getting ahead of that long-running federal debate. And that number, 47 million, could shrink by the time the next president takes office.
MONTAGNE: It all depends on what happens, in particular, here in California where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a special session of the legislature to work out a statewide health care plan.
As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, the plan would cover the 6.5 million Californians without insurance.
INA JAFFE: Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to talk about bipartisan, even post-partisan government. But that's generally meant that the Republican governor works out a deal with the Democrats who control the legislature while his fellow Republicans sit on the sidelines - and that seems to be the case now with health care reform.
Listen to him introduce Democrat and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez at a recent event in Los Angeles.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): This man is a great friend of mine. He is a hardworking man. And he always makes decisions that are right for the people of California. This is why I call him my partner, and this is why I'm looking forward to this next week or two where we will negotiate and work so that we have true health care reform. So please welcome, Speaker Nunez.
JAFFE: Who then praised Schwarzenegger's ability to martial support for health care reform from hospitals and business associations and other disparate groups.
Nunez didn't even mind that the governor is going to veto a health care plan his Democrats already passed. Right now, said the speaker, he and Schwarzenegger are working shoulder-to-shoulder to come up with a compromise.
Speaker FABIAN NUNEZ (Democrat, California; California State Assembly): I said, if it were up to the governor and I, we can do it in 15 minutes.
Mr. ROGER NIELLO (Republican Assembly Member, California): I don't want to say that we feel shut out.
JAFFE: Says Republican Assembly member Roger Niello who has the GOP's health care working group.
Mr. NIELLO: But we are very disappointed that principles that are important to us are not included in any of the proposals.
JAFFE: Those principles are less regulation and more market forces. But the proposals that are being considered, says Niello, are simply unacceptable to Republicans - like the possibility that everyone could be required to have health insurance; or that illegal immigrants would be included; or that the program might be paid for in part by a sales tax hike; or that employers who don't provide health insurance would be required to kick into a state fund to help the working poor buy policies. But whatever is in the final plan…
Mr. LARRY LEVITT (Vice President, Kaiser Family Foundation): The impact, nationally, would be huge.
JAFFE: Says Larry Levitt, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Mr. LEVITT: The uninsured problem in California is one of the biggest in the country, and it's a large and diverse state. So success here would really demonstrate that this is something that can be done nationally.
JAFFE: But it will be a long way between the deal and the reality. Democrats have enough votes to pass a plan but in California, the taxes to pay for it must be passed by a two-thirds vote. And the Republicans will never go for it.
So it may be done in two stages. First, the legislature will adopt the framework of a health care plan, then the money part will be turned into a ballot initiative to be approved or not by the voters. But that will require petitions being circulated, signatures being gathered. The measure probably won't go on the ballot on November of 2008. And that's a long time from now, says Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow.
Mr. DARRY SRAGOW (Democratic Political Consultant, California): And if on reflection any of those supporters of the plan initially decide that they really aren't comfortable with it, then all they have to do is oppose the ballot measure and you still have a program on the books but no way to pay for it.
JAFFE: So if Schwarzenegger and the Democrats do make a deal on health care reform, they could be facing a long, tough and expensive campaign with as much to fear from their supporters as from their opponents.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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