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

State officials announced Wednesday that a ballot measure implementing the program, Proposition 72, failed by a margin of 202,854 votes.

The measure attracted 49.1% of the votes cast, officials said.

Officials reported Nov. 3, the day after the fall general election, that the measure had received only 49.1% of the votes cast. But because the measure was losing by only 163,000 votes and California officials believed that millions of absentee ballots and provisional ballots were still outstanding, supporters held out some hope that the measure might pass.

Proposition 72 appeared on California’s fall ballot because of state Senate Bill 2, a bill that triggered efforts to set up a state-supervised universal health coverage program.

The law enacted by S.B. 2 would have required employers with at least 200 employees to buy health coverage for employees or contribute to a state health coverage program.

Opponents put Proposition 72 on the ballot to give California voters a chance to decide whether to proceed with implementation.

Supporters said the S.B. 2 program would help cut health care prices and health insurance rates, by keeping big employers from transferring the cost of caring for their uninsured workers onto the backs of doctors, hospitals and employers that do pay for private employee health coverage.

Opponents, such as many large retail and restaurant groups, argued that the program would hurt the California job market by creating what would amount to a huge new employment tax.