NPR logo

California Embraces New Health Care Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
California Embraces New Health Care Law


California Embraces New Health Care Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


House Republicans plan to vote, next week, to repeal the new federal health care law. HR2 would do that job. It has very little chance of getting farther than the House, because Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. Still, Republicans want to do what they can to slow or block the law.

At the same time, a few states, including California, are moving ahead quickly with implementation. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Sarah Varney has more.

SARAH VARNEY: California has blazed many trails - from wheatgrass shots to personal computing. But with the health overhaul, it's shaping up less as a trailblazer and more as a renegade. Its congressional delegation and new crop of state leaders, including new California insurance chief Dave Jones, are not only embracing the law, but championing it.

Mr. DAVE JONES (Insurance chief, California): As to my first priority - the implementation of health care reform - I believe it is important to move forward here in California, even if a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives wants to turn the clock back and deny Americans health care reform.

VARNEY: To whit, Jones's first act was signing an emergency order expanding his powers to enforce the federal law. He says the move was necessary should the Republican majority in Washington handcuff federal enforcement through budget cuts.

And like a good 'ole barn-raising, the California insurance exchange - a centerpiece of the plan - is rising out of the earth, practically overnight, with help from both parties. Earlier this week, outgoing Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made two appointments to the board that will oversee the exchange. One was his chief of staff, Democrat Susan Kennedy. The other was former secretary of Health and Human Services Kim Belshe, a Republican.

Ms. KIM BELSHE (Former secretary, Health and Human Services): California wasn't starting from scratch with implementation.

VARNEY: Belshe led Schwarzenegger's effort to remake the state's insurance market in 2007, a plan similar to what is now federal law. The proposal failed, but Belshe says it created momentum.

Ms. BELSHE: California's guiding motto for health reform implementation has been 2014 is tomorrow. And it's true that many federal reforms are not slated to take effect until 2014, but the magnitude and the import of the state responsibilities require action now.

VARNEY: Not everyone is waving their pom-pons here. The state's Chamber of Commerce and other business groups vehemently oppose the federal health law. They say it's too costly for employers.

Still, strong support for the health law isn't surprising, says Democratic political consultant, Chris Lehane. California Democrats have a big lead in voter registration, in part due to a loyal - and growing - Latino population.

Mr. CHRIS LEHANE (Political consultant): Part of it is the demographics. I think part of it is just the culture that exists out in California - people are forward looking, they embrace change.

VARNEY: California's enthusiasm is buoyed, no doubt, by the fact that the state won't pay for the expanded coverage out of its own depleted vault - at least not right away. And it has a lot to gain. The state has legions of uninsured residents, many of whom work in low-paying, service-sector and agricultural jobs. And some 3.4 million people are projected to gain coverage by mid-decade.

Mr. ROBERT RESTUCCIA (Community Catalyst): There is a huge benefit for folks in California from this legislation.

VARNEY: Robert Restuccia is head of Community Catalyst - a Boston-based consumer advocacy group that supports the federal law.

Mr. RESTUCCIA: You have an insurance market that really discriminates against anyone who is sick. You have one of the highest number of uninsured. You have a delivery system that's underfinanced.

VARNEY: Elsewhere in the nation, the federal health plan isn't giving state leaders the warm and fuzzies. Oklahoma's new Republican insurance chief is part of a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. And at least 20 states have joined legal efforts to scuttle the health care law. In Alaska, Republican Governor Sean Parnell has given federal planning grants the cold shoulder.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.