Editorial: The health care battle of 2007

The Examiner has a few early predictions about Sacramento’s emerging push for health care coverage expansion in California. You can expect health care for the state’s seven million uninsured to be the No. 1 legislative issue throughout 2007.

There will be a clash of competing plans and fierce demands from all interested parties. But ultimately a decent compromise will emerge, probably just in time for the November ballot. Few in the debate will get everything they want, but all except the most partisan will feel all right with the final outcome.

So we are optimistic that a California health care measure will emerge along the lines of this year’s hard-negotiated public works bond package. In particular, we want to see a broadening of health care access that does not unduly burden business and interfere with continued growth of the California economic engine. We want a plan that takes advantage of free-market strengths and does not discourage competition by imposing cumbersome regulations. And we want consumers to be offered real choices, including stripped-down, low-cost medical catastrophe insurance appealing to young workers who often see no need to buy coverage.

We would also suggest that any major health care measure seeking ballot approval would fare better if it offers something for the middle class, who might be insured already but are struggling with high payments that keep rising.

At least first-draft proposals have already showed up in the Legislature, presumably to attract maximum attention before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own plan takes the spotlight during his Jan. 9 State of the State speech.

Two bills focus on providing universal health care for California’s 763,000 uninsured children. This is probably a good thing because a children’s coverage plan could conceivably be the only health-care enhancement Sacramento delivers this year, if finance negotiations get bogged down.

State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, unveiled his health care plan last week. He said it would cover about two-thirds of the uninsured working poor, specifically denying benefits to illegal immigrants. Perata includes individual fees collected via income taxes, plus a tax on employers who do not cover their workers. Individuals would be able to buy insurance through a statewide pool and could not be denied over pre-existing conditions. Small businesses could also insure their employees through this pool.

The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan CEO last week also weighed in with a health care proposal to broaden California coverage through individual payments plus a health-care sales tax, and again that tax on employers who do not cover their workers.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s announcements have said he wants a “first-rate health care system that is accessible to everyone, effective and affordable” and has “shared responsibility” for paying the costs. This sounds perfectly fine as a broad outline for a worthy goal. But, as always, the big battle will be over who pays.

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