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Kuehl Pushes For Sweeping Health Care Reform

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

August 25 -- Once again, a Santa Monica resident is ahead of the pack, leading the state -- and possibly the nation -- in progressive, and highly controversial, reform.

State Senator Sheila Kuehl – often seen tooling around Sunset Park in her red Porsche – is taking a shot at changing legislative and health care history with her “California Health Insurance Reliability Act,” which comes up for a vote in the State Assembly next week, most likely on Monday.

“The increasing costs of health insurance premiums are bankrupting our state, our businesses and working families,” Kuehl wrote in an editorial in the Sacramento Bee Sunday, defending her bill, SB 840. “Universal health care is the best answer, and it is possible now.”

Calling the plan mandated by SB 840 “Medicare on steroids,” George Savage, Director of the Los Angeles Chapter of Health Care for All, said the single-payer health insurance system is “elegantly simple.”

The plan would cover all residents -- including undocumented residents and California retirees living out of state who pay into the system -- for a comprehensive range of medical costs, including dental care, prescriptions, mental health care and hospitalization.

Although another finance bill will be required to complete the reform, SB 840 has been amended to draw on current public funding and additional premiums paid to the system.

Savage speculated that employers and employees could share the costs of the premiums.

But although the bill has already passed in the Senate and is expected to pass in the Assembly, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who calls it a “tax increase,” will probably veto it, according to Kuehl’s staff member Emily Gold.

At that point, the political free-for-all will begin.

“There’s going to be a huge fight to make this happen,” predicted Savage, whose organization is leading a year-long public relations blitz to raise the consciousness of voters throughout the state.

A public event a day will be held, covering 365 communities from Los Osos to Sacramento. Santa Monica’s turn will come May 28, 2007.

And next Wednesday, Kuehl is calling for supporters to rally at noon on the south side of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

Even if SB 840 falls under Schwarzenegger’s veto, it will be back, Kuehl’s staff promise.

If Schwarzenegger is reelected, SB 840 supporters will keep up the heat, and if Phil Angelides wins, he is expected to sign the health care reform into law, Gold said.

The ideological war is already well underway.

One in five Californians went without health insurance in 2003, according to a letter Kuehl is asking supporters to send to Schwarzenegger.

“Half of all bankruptcies in the United States are now related to medical costs,” the letter goes on to say, and “(t)he United States spends twice as much per person as every other industrialized country on health care.”

The new system would cut health care costs by as much as $8 billion in the first year, according to an analysis by the Lewin Group, a national health care consulting firm.

“Most importantly, our health care system ranks at the bottom of industrialized nations, according to the World Health Organization,” the letter continues.

But opponents counter that access to health care would be limited under a single-payer system because care would be rationed and the latest medical technologies would no longer be widely available.

They also argue that the reform would result in a multi-billion dollar tax hike, and the state’s population would explode as people moved to California to take advantage of the new system, according to Senate and Assembly committee reports which list arguments for and against the bill.

The reports list hundreds of supporters for SB 840, including the City of Santa Monica, the League of Women Voters of California, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, the American Nurses Association of California and the California Physicians Alliance.

The same documents list fewer than a hundred opponents, including the California Chamber of Commerce, Blue Shield of California, the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies and the Insurance Brokers and Agents of the West.

For more information, pro and con, see www.healthcareforall.com and the California Chamber of Commerce website.

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