CA Universal Health Care SB840 – Senator Kuehl’s efforts

Steve Wiegand: California “creeping” along on universal health care

By Steve Wiegand –
12:00 am PDT Saturday, April 5, 2008

Historian John D’Emilio has written that social movements can be categorized as either “leaping” or “creeping” in terms of their pace.

Over at the Hart Senior Center on 27th Street today, the apostles of Senate Bill 840 are going to be creeping. More on that in a moment.

For those who have forgotten details from the Capitol’s recent health insurance wars, SB 840 is the “universal” approach, authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.

Put simplistically enough that even a newspaper columnist can understand it, “universal” health insurance would be like Medicare. Everyone would be covered. Everyone would pay into a state-run fund.

Californians could still pick and choose their doctors and health plans, who would be reimbursed by the state-run fund. In essence, the state would become California‘s health insurance company.

SB 840 is the only game in town when it comes to health insurance reform. In January, the Kuehl-chaired Senate Health Committee rejected an ambitious effort by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, to overhaul a system that almost everyone agrees stinks.

That leaves Kuehl’s bill, which is only the latest iteration of the universal approach. Two years ago, she pushed a similar plan to Schwarzenegger’s desk. But the guv vetoed it, saying he couldn’t support “socialized medicine” that would impose a new payroll tax.

Kuehl, who is in her last year as a legislator because of term limits, expects the same result this year – assuming she can get SB 840 through the Assembly and past Núñez, who may seek revenge for the death of his own bill before her committee.

“I talked to the governor after his bill was defeated,” she told me this week, “but he is just adamant … and I haven’t been able to get beyond that with him.”

Still, Kuehl is not discouraged by the prospect of another veto, or by taking the “creeping” approach.

“My job is make certain we kick the can down the street every year,” she said. “I want more and more people to understand why this is the best game in town for them.”

Which brings us back to the Hart Senior Center. Between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, an expected group of about 40 people will gather to learn the best arguments to use in making the case for universal health care.

They’ll hear a pep talk from Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and about the nuances of SB 840 from Sara Rogers of Kuehl’s staff.

The idea is to build consensus for universal health care by convincing Californians that instead of the current system, it would be better to have insurance that stays affordable, follows you from job to job, covers you until you’re 65 if you’d like to retire early and isn’t lost to you because of a pre-existing condition.

Eventually, Kuehl said, the state will have a more sympathetic governor, or poll numbers will show it’s time to take the issue to voters directly. (Voters crushed the idea in 1994 by a 3-1 ratio, but more recent polls show it’s close to a 50-50 proposition.)

The training seminar is sponsored by the Sacramento Valley Chapter of Health Care for All-California, a grass-roots group that has been pushing for universal health coverage since the mid-1990s.

“It’s a matter of holding informed conversations with a lot of people,” said Carolyn Negrete, a South Land Park resident who is coordinating the event. “This is simply to train people how to do that.”

As for Kuehl, a Harvard-educated attorney, she says she hopes to stay active in the fight but has no plans to set up her own grass-roots group, mainly because she can’t afford it.

“I have to work,” she said, pointing out that her 14-year legislative career doesn’t end with a pension.

Or health care benefits.

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