4 local legislators take massive donations from insurance industry--and vote against bill
June 3, 2011 (Sacramento) – Today the California State Senate voted 25-14 to pass SB 703, which would establish a low-cost health insurance plan to cover an estimated 720,000 people for premiums as low as $30 a month. If passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, the measure would provide coverage for more than 723,000 uninsured people who earn between 133% and 200% of the federal poverty level.
San Diego’s state senators split votes down party lines, with Republicans Joel Anderson, Kevin Jeffries, Nathan Fletcher and Mark Wyland voting no, while Democrats Chris Kehoe and Juan Vargas voted for the bill. Collectively, the four received nearly $350,000 in insurance industry donations for their campaigns.
The bill is not projected to require any new costs to California taxpayers, since 95% of funding would come from the federal government out of funds already allocated. The other 5% would be paid for by premiums paid by enrollees, according to the bill's author.
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that everyone have health insurance. The federal law calls for creation of health insurance exchanges and allowed states to create lower-cost alternatives. SB 703 would establish one such alternative, a Basic Health Plan for Californians to assure that healthcare will be affordable even to low-income individuals.
“Too many Californians either cannot afford healthcare or are forced into financial ruin trying to pay for it,” said Senator Ed Hernandez, a doctor from West Covina. “I am very proud to see this legislation moving forward today because it will create affordable healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of these people without asking for a single dime more from California’s taxpayers.”
He added, “People who are struggling just to pay their rent and put food on the table should not have to worry about spending as much as 10% of their income on healthcare…When we can help this many people get access to the affordable, quality healthcare they need without putting additional strain on California’s budget, we need to act.”
It is unclear why Republicans, inkling all four local GOP legislators, voted against the measure. The GOP has opposed the federal healthcare reform law, however, and seeks to repeal it in Congress for a variety of reasons, including objections to cost and requirements that everyone buy insurance.
The California bill would have a negative impact on the insurance industry by providing lower cost alternatives for Californians.
Senator Anderson has taken $122,800 in insurance industry contributions for his campaigns since 2007; Senator Wyland has taken $72,000 since 2007 from the insurance industry. The insurance industry is, in fact, the top donor to the campaigns for both Anderson and Wyland. Insurance is the second largest industry donor to campaigns of Nathan Fletcher ($81,100) and Jeffries ($17,264).
Anderson offered this justification for his vote. "While the current American system of private-sector based health care could use some improvement, the idea of taking health decisions away from medical professionals and their patients and instead giving that power to elected officials and bureaucrats is frightening," he said. “If enacted, SB 703 would lock California into a state government-run health care system that would have the compassion of the DMV and the incompetence of Caltrans.”
The bill was supported by the California Association of Public Hospitals, Health Access, Local Health Plans of California and by the California Congress of Seniors, which sent a letter to the author stating that the measure would make healthcare more affordable for low and moderate income individuals, including seniors under 65 who are not yet eligible for Medicare and legal immigrants who meet income qualifications. (Illegal immigrants would not be covered.)
A study by the California Health Care Foundation concluded that 70% of eligible individuals, an estimated 723,418 individuals, would enroll in the Basic Health Plan.
Over the course of two decades, California has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of people who are uninsured, as the proportion with employer-sponsored coverage has contracted. Between 1987 and 2009, the segment of the non-elderly population covered by insurance provided through an employer continued its decline from 65% to 52%. Although increases in Medicaid coverage partially offset the decline, more than 20% of Californians remain uninsured. California has both a lower percentage of individuals with employer-sponsored coverage and a higher proportion of uninsured than the rest of the nation. California also has the largest total number of people without insurance — 6.8 million — of any U.S. state. Read more: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2010/12/californias-uninsured#ixzz1OHFvi4Aw
Studies have shown that people with medical insurance are not only more apt to die younger, but also are unable to afford preventative care--and thus are more likely to seek costly emergency room treatment that drives up the cost of healthcare overall.
The bill will now advance to the Assembly for consideration.