Be bold, or weasel out

John Taylor: December 19, 20070 Comments

If the choices were only that simple. I'm talking about California health care reform.

The Assembly has passed the Schwarzenegger-Nunez near-universal coverage bill. Senate President pro tem Don Perata is saying, not so fast -- no Senate review until January, after some costing out.

There will be a clear winner when all this plays out. But don't bet the bank it will be the 4 million to 7 million uninsured Californians.

Let's look at dollars and alliances.

  • $14.4 billion, or so -- the reform plan's discussed cost -- funded by fees on hospitals, a payroll tax and, let's try it again, a hefty hike in cigarette taxes.

  • $14 billion, or so -- the state's projected budget deficit -- with all state agencies likely to be asked to slash services (who knows who would be left to implement health reform).

  • $48 billion -- the state's unfunded liability for medical care costs for future government retirees (wonder how many will retire before they get fiscal-emergencied out the door).

  • $100 million -- chump change compared to the numbers above -- but one estimate of how much opponents of health reform might spend to defeat it.

Who is standing behind the Schwarzenegger-Nunez package, assuming all the unwritten words come out written correctly, and the ballot measure that voters will be required to approve for funding?

Well, there were about 70 groups represented at the Big Two's media event -- including Albertson's, the Council of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Association, March of Dimes, a slew of hospital groups, and Service Employees International Union.

Opponents at this juncture? The media mention California Nurses Association, Republican lawmakers, California Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross, pharmaceutical companies -- and, though not yet official, a good bet would be Big Tobacco. Oh, and the bill could be a violation of federal law, the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

How is it playing in the media?

A Los Angeles Times editorial termed it "a worthwhile experiment." Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters called it reminiscent of the "humongous disaster" that occurred with energy deregulation in 1996 -- with few details and pedal-to-the-metal political ego.

Ironically, the one clear winner if this effort moves toward a November general election ballot will be the media -- rescued from their sagging fortunes with an advertising-spending blitz only outdone by presidential candidates.

Happy holidays, and ignore the last-minute shopping crush. The real frenzy starts in January.