Another Delay for Health Care Reform in California.

Things aren’t looking good for comprehensive health care reform in California this year. Assembly Speaker Fabian postponed a floor session to consider health care reform that had been scheduled for December 5th and/or 6th. A spokesperson for the Speaker said negotiations are continuing on a compromise and additional time was needed to “draft language and shop it around.” Whether there will ever be compromise language worth shopping around, however, is a matter of some debate. Conventional wisdom, and the people who spout it, are growing increasingly doubtful Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Speaker Nunez can reach  a compromise this year.

The most significant sign health care reform is in trouble comes from Bill Ainsworth, who in the San Diego Union blog claims the blame game has begun. If so, this is the political equivalent of a B-Western cowboy seeing buzzards circling overhead. The blame game, as played in Capitols everywhere, involves key players spending a couple of news cycles giving others credit for the failure to accomplish something. And with California’s health care reform effort, there’s plenty of “others” to credit: the unions, the Republicans, the carriers, the Democrats, the Chamber of Commerce, the doctors, the Administration, the wildfires, the budget deficit and so on and so forth. If this is the route the principals will be taking, you’ll start hearing about the do-nothing legislature that’s too beholden to the unions and how the Governor sold out to big business and the insurance industry. Then the Legislature will pass their health care reform package, Assembly Bill X1-1 on party line votes and the Governor will veto the bill. Both sides will use these actions as opportunities to offer various innuendos, insults and accusations.

That’s the low road, but there’s another option available to the Governor, Speaker and Senator. Instead of savaging one another, they could salvage something meaningful from the wreckage. In this scenario, they enact several “small” reforms that lay the foundation for future, more comprehensive reforms while also fixing some present problems. I’ve already written about what three elements of such a package might be: 1) cost containment; 2) increasing MediCal reimbursement; and 3) improving outreach for Healthy Families. (The post even suggests how to fund these efforts). Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally already introduced a bill in the special session concerning the state’s high risk pool that would be a worthy addition to the package.

Whether it’s these or other incremental reforms, there’s reason to be optimistic that the troika will take the high road. They already have a track record of successfully working together. There are a host of other issues they will face next year (think water and budget deficits) that will require compromise and cooperation. Creating ill will over health care reform won’t make those issues any easier. And they all have a political needs a salvage operation would help meet.

They may yet fashion a compromise on health care reform. The conventional wisdom, after all, is rarely actually wise. But if they can’t, let’s hope, at the very least, they find a way to work together on a meaningful Plan B.