California employers may have defeated their state’s proposed universal health coverage program.[@@]

With 100% of precincts reporting, the universal health implementation ballot measure, Proposition 72, appears to be losing. The measure attracted 4.56 million supporting votes, or 49.1% of the 9.3 million votes cast.

But “no” votes outnumber “yes” votes by only about 163,000. California could still get as many as 2.5 million absentee ballots and an unknown number of provisional ballots, according to a spokeswoman for the California secretary of state’s office.

Officials have 28 days to complete their count of the vote, the spokeswoman says.

California voters saw Proposition 72 on the Nov. 2 general election ballot because of a provision in S.B. 2, the bill that triggered efforts to set up a state universal health coverage program.

S.B. 2 could require employers with more than 49 employees to choose between offering health coverage or contributing to a state health coverage program.

A separate referendum effort organized by S.B. 2 opponents let state residents contribute to the debate about the program by putting an implementation measure on the fall ballot.

If Proposition 72 fails, the S.B. 2 universal health program effort would die.

Some S.B. 2 opponents already are declaring victory.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., put out a statement arguing that the S.B. 2 universal health program would have created an extremely expensive, government-mandated health plan.

“We certainly support the goal of affordable health care for all Californians,” Wal-Mart spokesman Cynthia Lin says in a statement about the proposition. “But as businesses, school districts, the governor and even most of the major newspapers in California have pointed out, Proposition 72 was not the right approach.”