California nurses say good riddance to Governators health plan

SACRAMENTO (PAI)--By a 7-1 vote on Jan. 28, the California state senate Health Committee killed a corporate-based statewide universal health care plan pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), a vote the California Nurses Association cheered.

Committee Republicans rejected the plan as yet another government mandate: Schwarzenegger would have forced everyone to buy health insurance and penalized them, by garnishing wages, or through mortgage liens if they didn’t. Committee Democrats called his scheme too costly and said it had too many holes.

Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, whose union lobbied against the plan, was glad for several reasons. CNA has pushed strongly for single-payer government-run universal health care in the nation’s largest state. Committee Chair Sen. Sheila Kuhl (D) got that through the Democratic-run legislature twice, but Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed it. Kuhl and other committee members vowed to try again.

Health care action in California is important, since it has one-eighth of the nation’s population and actions there often start trends for the rest of the U.S. It also has 2.1 million union members. Single-payer, abolishing the insurers, their high premiums and co-pays and denial of care, would be a major change there.

DeMoro called the governor’s plan, which would also have ordered employers to pay into a statewide fund to cover the uninsured--if they refused to provide coverage themselves—“badly flawed.” Schwarzenegger and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D) had pushed it through the Assembly, and Service Employees President Andy Stern backed it.

Kuhl’s Senate Health Committee, after a “thorough, deliberative process,” took “a principled courageous stand despite enormous pressure by those pushing for hurried passage for a bad bill,' DeMoro said. The panel bounced it, she added, not because Californians like the present insurer-dominated “broken health care system,” but because it was fundamentally flawed on its merits on access, quality, and cost.”

One key flaw, she said, was forcing individuals to buy insurance, but with no cost controls on the insurers and no minimum benefits or quality--and no penalties for companies that don’t provide workers health coverage.

The measure would let firms either drop their coverage, and pay into the fund, or let them offer minimum coverage without vision, dental or mental health care.