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Golden State Lawmakers OK Universal Health Bill

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The California Assembly has voted 43-30 to approve an effort to create a universal health care system.

The California Senate voted 25-15 in May to approve another version of the single-payer health coverage bill, S.B. 840, but it now must vote on whether it will accept the amended Assembly version.

If the Senate acts quickly, the Assembly version of the bill could land on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 1, according to Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, Calif., the bill’s sponsor.

Schwarzenegger has not taken a public stand on S.B. 840, but he expressed his opposition to the idea of a state-run health insurance system in July, during an appearance in San Francisco.

“I think it is important for us to get involved, but I don’t believe in universal health care,” Schwarzenegger said.

Kuehl argues that S.B. 840 can fix California’s broken health care system.

“The growing cost of health insurance is bankrupting our businesses and working families,” Kuehl says. “Our health care system is being decimated to pay for insurance company waste.”

If signed and implemented as written, S.B. 840 would create the California Health Insurance System, a “single-payer” system administered by a new agency, the California Health Insurance Agency. The system would provide medical, dental, vision, hospital and drug coverage for all California residents.

A commissioner appointed by the governor would run the health insurance agency.

The system would become operative when the state secretary of Health and Human Services decides that a state health insurance fund has enough revenue to implement the bill.

Kuehl says the proposed single-payer system could save California residents about $10 billion in its first year of operation, but her bill does not explain how the state would finance the system.

The bill calls for a panel of health, finance and technical experts to design the funding system.

The California Association of Health Underwriters, Sacramento, Calif., is one of the groups continuing to fight S.B. 840.

CAHU is criticizing the lack of health care cost control provisions and the absence of a complete funding mechanism in the bill.

“While CAHU shares Sen. Kuehl’s goal of universal access to health care, S.B. 840 is simply bad for California,” CAHU President David Benson says in a statement. “The most effective means of solving the health care crisis is by improving our private-public health care system through greater promotion and significant reform of existing public programs, employment-based coverage and individual policies.”


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