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Apr 27, 2005
by Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau
Panel kills universal health insurance;
The Assembly action comes as the Senate looks at a state-run plan to replace private coverage.Legislation to require every Californian to have basic health insurance was killed Tuesday by the Assembly Health Committee.
The measure, AB 1670, would have created a universal health care system to include 6.4 million Californians who currently lack insurance.
Under the bill, every Californian would be required to have a policy covering catastrophic care and various preventive measures, such as child vaccinations and colon exams for men over 50.
Small businesses that employ large percentages of low-income workers would be eligible for government subsidies to provide more extensive insurance coverage.
Californians could obtain their health policies at work or through purchasing pools designed to provide more clout in keeping premiums low.
Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, said the measure was designed to fix a system in which taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for millions of California who currently lack insurance.
"The fact of the matter is, the health care system in this country is absolutely broken," said Nation, who teamed with Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge, in proposing AB 1670.
Nation said the Legislature has done little in recent years to reverse the trend.
"My fear, frankly, is that we will continue to say no, no, no to a number of bills, many with promise, and not do anything positive for the health care system," Nation said.
AB 1670 was one of two universal health care proposals before lawmakers this year.
The other measure, SB 840, is scheduled to be heard today by the Senate Health Committee. It calls for replacing private health insurance in California with a state-run system.
Nation and Richman could not persuade Democrats, who dominate the Assembly Health Committee, to support their bill Tuesday.
Details had yet to be worked out, but one proposal was to implement a tax on health insurance policies to help fund subsidies under AB 1670.
Premiums for minimum insurance coverage were estimated at $50 per month, with a maximum annual deductible of $5,000 for catastrophic care.
A second tier of insurance, offering more extensive coverage with little or no deductible, was expected to cost about $160 per month.
Californians would have been required to prove they have basic health insurance when filing income taxes each year.
Dana Goldman, Rand Corp. director of health economics, testified in support of the bill's individual mandate and its proposed purchasing pool.
Such pools keep premiums low and "remove the fear that if consumers actually use health care, they will lose their insurance or face staggering premium increases," Goldman said.
Opponents countered that AB 1670 might prompt employers to drop their existing health insurance policies, and that many Californians could not afford the $5,000 deductible in basic policies.
"People with high deductibles fail to get the necessary and appropriate care," said Beth Capell of Health Access. "They don't take their medicines. They don't go to the doctor. They don't take care of their chronic conditions."
The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association expressed conceptual support for AB 1670.
Opponents included Health Access, the California Labor Federation, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and the California Association of Health Underwriters.
The Bee's Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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