Fate Of Universal Health Measure In California Hinges On Absentee Ballots

By

California employers may have been successful in defeating Proposition 72, a ballot measure supporting implementation of a universal health coverage program in the state.

At press time, Proposition 72 was losing by a narrow margin. The official vote tally showed the measure had won only 4.56 million, or 49.1%, of the 9.3 million votes cast.

But opponents of Proposition 72 had an edge of just over 167,000 votes, and state officials were not sure how many provisional ballots and absentee ballots were left to be counted, according to a spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

California mailed 4.5 million absentee ballots to voters. California county election officials have 28 days to certify the election results for their counties.

Passage of Proposition 72 would allow the implementation of a law based on S.B. 2, which was signed in October 2003 by outgoing Gov. Gray Davis. It called for all employers with more than 49 employees to choose between providing health coverage for their employees or contributing to a new state health coverage system for uninsured employees.

Opponents put Proposition 72 on the fall ballot to give voters a chance to block the universal health program before it goes into operation.

Universal health program supporters, including AARP, Washington, and the California Teachers Association, Burlingame, Calif., argue that it would help hold down the cost of private health coverage by improving the overall health of the population and reducing the need for doctors, hospitals and government agencies to make insured patients subsidize the cost of providing essential care for the uninsured.

The California Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento, Calif., and other critics of the S.B. 2 universal health program say it would impose the equivalent of a $7 billion tax on employers and destroy jobs by sharply increasing employee benefits costs.

In some cases, the program might encourage employers to shut down existing health plans and dump workers into the proposed state-run health coverage program for the uninsured, program critics predict.

Leading members of Californians Against Government Run Healthcare, Sacramento, the committee organized to fight Proposition 72, include the states restaurant, small business and retail trade associations.

Neither the California Association of Health Plans, Sacramento, nor the California Association of Health Underwriters, Fresno, shows up on the Californians Against Government Run Healthcare membership list.

Many leading California health insurance brokers and company executives oppose the S.B. 2 program, but some, including Bruce Bodaken, chairman of Blue Shield of California, San Francisco, have spoken out in favor of some kind of universal health program.

Although S.B. 2 opponents are winning by a relatively narrow margin, they already are declaring victory.

CKE Restaurants Inc., Carpinteria, Calif., the parent of Californias Carls Jr. chain of fast food restaurants, is calling the defeat of Proposition 72 a victory for the states entire restaurant industry.

“Our stockholders can rest assured that the potential negative impact of this proposition has been averted,” says Andrew Puzder, CKEs president.

Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, says Proposition 72 lost because the S.B. 2 program was a flawed program.

The chamber wants to look for ways to help cover the uninsured without hurting California businesses, Zaremberg says.

Two years ago, business groups spent heavily to beat back a ballot measure in Oregon that would have created a state-run health insurance program for all residents. Only 21% of the voters who voted on Oregons Measure 23 “single-payer” initiative supported it, according to the Universal Health Care Action Network, Cleveland.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 4, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.