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January 20, 2008

Governor's health care bill faces long hearing, close vote

SACRAMENTO—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $14 billion health care expansion bill moves to the Senate, where it will face an extended hearing this week and the likelihood of a close vote in the Health Committee.

"This is not a slam dunk," said Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who could end up being the swing vote on the measure.

The bill passed the Assembly in December, but the Senate put off consideration to give the Legislature's budget analyst, Elizabeth Hill, time to report on the bill's costs.

The Health Committee will take it up Wednesday with a hearing that the chairwoman, Sen. Sheila Kuehl predicts will stretch from midmorning into the evening.

The panel will hear from Hill, take a look at health care experiments in other states, examine the bill piece by piece and take testimony from supporters, opponents and those on the fence looking for amendments.

"There are going to be a lot of witnesses," said Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.

The legislation would require employers to spend a certain percentage of their payrolls on health coverage for their workers, either by buying policies themselves or paying into a state health insurance pool.

Most Californians who couldn't obtain coverage through jobs or a government program would be required to buy insurance on their own.

The plan would be funded through employer contributions, fees on hospitals and an increase in cigarette taxes, in addition to premiums paid by consumers. Administration officials also are counting on getting additional federal funding to expand health care programs for the poor.

Supporters say the proposal would provide coverage for most of the 5.1 million Californians who lack health insurance and force insurers to take all customers instead of denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

"This is fundamental reform...," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, who negotiated the legislation with Schwarzenegger and is carrying the bill.

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Posted by healthinsurance at January 20, 2008 08:25 PM