Governor Again Likely to Push for Health Reform

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Here’s Governor Schwarzenegger in his State of the State address from two years ago:

“When I first came here in 1968 one of the first things I did was ask people where could I get health insurance because I knew that, as an athlete, injuries happen.” 
Since moving here from Austria, Schwarzenegger’s ideas on health care have evolved far beyond weight lifting injuries. In fact, he dubbed 2007 the Year of Health Care Reform.

“This year we must take action on health care, CLAPPING….”
The action Schwarzenegger took was to propose that all Californians be required to have health insurance. Businesses would’ve had to cover employees or pay into a state fund. And insurance companies wouldn’t be able to deny people coverage because of their health conditions. Schwarzenegger carried over his enthusiasm into last year’s speech…

“Millions of people can’t afford, or can’t get health care. Our emergency rooms are crowded or closed. Medi-Cal patients are being turned away at hospitals, businesses and families are experiencing double-digit increases in health care costs and medical bills are the number one reason that people file for personal bankruptcy.” 

But his plan to fix these problems died in part because a report from the non-partisan legislative analyst that projected the program would be in the red in a few years. And Schwarzenegger didn’t get enough lawmakers on board -- it failed in a Senate committee last year shortly after his State of the State address. 

Anthony Wright heads the consumer advocacy group, Health Access California. He says there’s a stark difference between the governor’s big ideas and reality. He points out that Schwarzenegger has ended up slashing health benefits for the poor, the disabled and kids.

“Unfortunately right now it’s a negative record. He still has two more years and I think that he may want to look at the legacy that he leaves in health care but you can’t help but think that we’ve gone backwards.”
Critics say the governor has been brought down by setting the bar too high.  Wright says Schwarzenegger wanted it all instead of taking smaller steps to get health care reform. 
“We think that sometimes the governor’s all or nothing approach has been to his detriment. It means that we get nothing.” 
Daniel Zingale is a senior advisor to the governor. He says cuts in health care were hard to make but they were necessary because of the state’s worsening budget crisis.   
“The longer we wait in terms of enacting comprehensive health care reform the deeper we dig the hole that we’re in. And the cuts are a part of that and I think everyone here recognizes that – those cuts only make it harder for us to climb the mountain of health care reform. So, the sooner we do it the better.” 
Zingale says even in the face of a $40 billion shortfall, Schwarzenegger’s not giving up now. The governor’s office won’t reveal exactly what he’ll talk about in today’s address, but Zingale expects Schwarzenegger to bring up fighting childhood obesity, cutting back smoking rates and getting Californians affordable health care. 
“His priority is on prevention and creating a healthier California. And if we all stick in this together two years is enough time for us to be the first state in the nation to get comprehensive health care reform right.” 
But still, Anthony Wright of Health Access is concerned that some of the health care bills the governor killed last year give a glimpse into the future. One of the bills would’ve protected people in the individual market from being unfairly cancelled. Another would’ve created a state run health care program -- similar to Medicare for all. So, Wright says he’s waiting to see what face the governor will show in this year’s State of the State, given California’s dire financial problems.  

“It’ll also be interesting to see what the governor says about health care policy given that he vetoed so many bills last year that were even non-budget bills that would’ve at least made some progress in the area of health, so it’ll be interesting to see which governor we get.”