California Health Care Reform in 2007? Maybe Not.

The calendar is beginning to work against significant health care reform in California this year. Although the legislative leadership, organized labor and the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger all would like to resolve the issue this year, folks I’ve talked to in Sacramento are beginning to wonder if it’s possible.

While other issues have been resolved, and the Governor has reportedly said health care reform is the next “big” issue he wants to address. But there’s going to be a lot of distractions getting in the way.

The first is the deadline for legislation to pass its house of origin is in early June. If a bill introduced in, for example, the Assembly, isn’t approved by that body, it’s dead. This means legislators will need to vote on literally hundreds of bills in a very short time, a time consuming task.

Then there’s the need to pass a budget. According to the constitution, this is to be done by July 1st, but with a challenging financial landscape and significant differences between what the Governor and the Legislative Leadership wants to spend, this deadline will be tough to meet.

There’s also the matter of reapportionment. The Legislature wants to tweak term limits, but the Governor has said he won’t support the needed initiative (already set for the February 2008 ballot) unless there’s changes in how California’s legislative distrcits are drawn. This is not a simple issue — and legislator’s careers are at stake. It’s going to take considerable work to get this done.

Finally, there’s the matter of the summer recess, which goes from July 20-something to August 20-something. The Legislature is in session for about a month after this recess and then adjouns for the years.

All of this will make it difficult for the Governor and Legislative Leaders to devote much time to health care reform. Granted, their staffs can work on the issue while their bosses are busy on other things, but we’re talking about an extremely complicated issue which impacts over 15 percent of the state’s economy. One would hope the principals would want to devote some quality time to it.

Taken together, this makes it unlikely health care reform will pass this year. Unless … and there’s something about the Governor’s penchant for the grand gesture that makes me think there’s a fair chance of this happening … the Governor calls a special session to deal with health care and, if it’s still not settled, reapportionment.  This would be a dramatic way for Governor Schwarzenegger to demonstrate his seriousness about attacking the issue. Special sessions are rare in California. But don’t count one out if the calendar’s distractions sidetrack a health care reform bill in 2007.