As predicted, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 8 (Nunez). The Senate vote was 22-to-17 vote and in the Assembly it moved forward on a 45-31 vote. (Significantly, there will apparently be no vote this year on Senate Bill 840 (Keuhl), the single payer proposal). Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately announced he would veto the bill and pledged to call a special session to iron out an acceptable health care reform package (his full statement is below).
None of this is surprising. Nor should it be taken as a failure of the Administration or Legislative Leaders — although that’s how many reporters will no doubt describe it. Lawmakers and their staffs worked hard to reach a compromise before the regular legislative session adjourns this week, but time, the complexity of the issue, and the press of other issues made that impossible. What’s impressive is how close they came. Which sets the stage for a productive special session.
Not that anyone’s asked but my wish list for the special session:
- Detailed language on what each side (the Governor and the Legislative Leaders) are proposing.
- Time for interested parties to digest this information
- Meaningful public dialogue on the proposals with all parties keeping an open mind on how to achiee their common goals.
In short, while some backroom negotiating is inevitable, there’s been too much of it concerning AB 8. It’s time for the process to open up. What the Governor and the Legislative Leadership need to do is be very clear on their health care reform goals while not getting too locked into how those aims are achieved (the Governor makes a good start in this direction in his statement). By sincerely listening to alternative approaches, it may be possible to reach a workable and meaningful compromise. It’s happened before. Let’s hope it can happen again.
Here’s the Governor’s statement on health care reform in full:
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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today issued the following statement regarding Assembly Bill 8, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata:
“I applaud all the hard work that has gone into efforts to reform California’s health care system, but I cannot sign AB 8 because it would only put more pressure on an already broken health care system.
“First and foremost, AB 8 does not cover everyone. Any reform that leaves millions without health insurance and fails to address our dangerously overcrowded emergency rooms simply maintains a broken system. I have said from the beginning of this debate that coverage for all Californians is critical to reducing health care costs for everyone.
“AB 8 does not protect consumers because insurers would still be allowed to deny coverage, leaving Californians vulnerable to loss or denial of coverage when they need it most.
“I also believe that AB 8 is financially unsustainable. I have always said that I would not sign a health care bill that puts the vast majority of the financial burden for reform on any one segment of our economy. AB 8 unfortunately does that by requiring businesses to pay at least 7.5 percent of their payroll into a state fund or on health care services for employees.
“I believe we can find agreement on a financially sustainable reform plan that shares responsibility, covers all Californians and keeps our emergency rooms open and operating. The historic agreement reached this past week on the use of hospital contributions for coverage demonstrates that a more balanced approach is achievable.
“We have made tremendous progress on this issue during the past session and have found considerable common ground.
“That is why I intend to call a special session of the Legislature so that we can finish the job of truly reforming our health care system. I know that legislative leaders are willing to get the job done.
“We must keep working until we achieve the kind of historic solution that all of us and the people of California want.”