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NEWS RELEASE
Jan 07, 2004


CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan - 415-633-1320

Web Log to Chart Universal Health Care Debate -- Will Schwarzenegger and the Legislature Ever Get to Cost Controls?

FTCR to track legislature's actions on health care reform
SANTA MONICA, CA -- A new web log was launched today by the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR) to document whether the legislature will take action to reduce the cost of health care coverage and to build consensus for universal health care. The first web log reports on a letter sent by consumers from around California to Senate President pro Tem John Burton, author of landmark legislation, SB 2, to require employers to provide health insurance by 2006. The letter urges Senator Burton to personally intervene to bring health care costs down.

FTCR said that the new California law, SB 2 -- to provide health care benefits to 1 million more working people -- could be a national model if necessary cost control measures are adopted.

The letter, which can be read in full following the web log at http://www.calhealthconsensus.org, begins, "We represent the millions of self-employed entrepreneurs, retired people, small business owners and consumers struggling to pay for exorbitant increases in our health care costs brought on by HMO profiteering and system-wide waste. Some of us have had to cut back on our coverage, some may no longer be able afford coverage of any kind."

Governor Schwarzenegger has ignored cost control options and has yet to appoint any commissioners to the California Health Care Quality Improvement and Cost Containment Commission -- created to study cost control strategies, according to FTCR. Under the law, the governor must appoint 17 of the 27 members to the commission. FTCR has called on the Governor to make the necessary appointments but also has said that Schwarzenegger and the Legislature must act on immediate cost savings strategies.

In the letter, the consumers urged Senator Burton to "provide the leadership necessary" for new legislation to:

* Regulate health care premiums, as the state does now for auto insurance premiums;
* Standardize hospital fees, as has worked in Maryland;
* Buy prescription drugs through bulk purchasing, which has created huge discounts in Canada and at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Over the last two years, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the California Health Consensus Project have held town halls across the state with consumers, business owners, doctors, nurses, clinic directors and hospital executives to forge a consensus on a cost-effective universal health care plan.

According to FTCR's California Health Consensus Project website, "The legislature has taken the first step to increase access to health care with the passage of SB 2 -- a bill that requires business owners to provide health care coverage to their employees beginning in 2006. The questions for 2004 are: what reforms will be adopted to reduce the cost of coverage and will SB 2 survive challenges to overturn it? This web log will document that debate."

The California Chamber of Commerce, citing high costs, has targeted SB 2 with a referendum to repeal the law. The referendum was kept from the March ballot by a Sacramento Superior court judge who found that petition language circulated with the referendum was misleading. On-going legal disputes could mean that referendum will not appear on any ballot. However, it is widely believed that the Chamber of Commerce will pursue a court challenge whether or not the referendum moves forward.

FTCR supported SB 2 but called on then-Governor Gray Davis to commit to implementing cost controls in the two years leading up to the bill's implementation in 2006. Davis signed the bill with no such commitment. The legislature approved a complementary bill, AB 1528, also signed by Governor Davis, to create a new commission to study health care cost control options and report to the legislature on its findings on or before January 1, 2005.

"We will continue to give voice to the millions of California health care consumers and small business owners who cannot keep up with health care costs because insurers are allowed to raise rates at will," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "The legislature must intervene and provide immediate cost controls. California has successfully moved from the state with the highest auto insurance rates in 1988 to a state with rates below the national average because of effective premium regulation. Our health care should have the same protections as our auto insurance."

Other http://www.calhealthconsensus.org features include:

* Full-length video, audio and written transcripts of statewide Town Hall meetings convened to discuss universal health care;
* Recent news articles, television coverage, press releases and commentary pieces relating to universal health care reform;
* Electronic sign-up to receive web logs by email;
* Overview of major health care reform legislative proposals;
* Summaries of common problems and solutions shared by patients, employers and providers.

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit and nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization. For more information, visit us on the web at
http://www.consumerwatchdog.org




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