In the end, it wasn’t even close. With just one “aye” vote, the Senate Health Committee killed Assembly Bill X1-1, the health care reform compromise bill worked out by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
It was the cost, more than anything, but Senators also criticized some of the trade-offs accepted to bring stakeholders together. But mostly it was the cost. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report, delivered in the midst of Senate consideration of draconian budget cuts to health and human services, made the $14.4 billion program unpalitable to lawmakers of both parties.
Even Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, a co-sponsor of the legislation, announced before the vote he could not support it in light of the LAO report.
In a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and Speaker Nunez, Senator Perata wrote, “This bill – which is before the Senate, and the initiative, which is not – would create the third-largest program in state government, surpassed only by K-12 education and Medi-Cal. Under any circumstances, but especially in light of the state’s $14.5 billion budget shortfall, we have the fiduciary responsibility to approve a health care coverage plan that is both self financing and fiscally sound and a moral responsibility to protect from harm those who already have health care coverage.”
The defeat of ABX1-1 is no cause for celebration. The reality is, while the health care system works well for many in the state, serious problems exist that need to be addressed. With the defeat of ABX1-1, pressure for change will continue to build. Lawmakers may succumb to the pressure to pass anything in order to have passed something.
The health care reform debate in California is far from over. The defeat of ABX1-1 is significant, but it’s not the end. Nor should it be.