Policy Today magazine cover
September 20, 2006
California Ed.

California's health care debate isn't going away.

For many, SB 840—a universal health care bill written by California State Senator Sheila Kuehl and passed by both houses of the California Legislature—was doomed from the beginning. So, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intention to veto the bill shortly after it passed the Assembly, few were surprised. But while opponents of the bill called it election-year posturing and supporters touted it as an answer to the state's health care woes, California residents heard very little of the story behind the bill's creation, debate and passage. So goes the policy-making process and the 24-hour news cycle.

Although the governor has mooted any speculation about the plan's efficacy with his forthcoming veto, the debate over health care in California will continue. With six million uninsured and health care premium costs that have risen more than 55% since 2001, few argue that California is in the midst of a serious health care crisis. The sand in the legislative gears comes in the question of how to best address the problem. The governor and many of his allies in the Legislature argue for cost containment and tort reform. The lion's share of the Democratic contingent in Sacramento has supported SB 840 and other safety net provisions. Another faction in the Legislature led by Assemblymen Keith Richman and Joe Nation, has proposed a series of steps to limit costs and promote quality of care.

PT spoke at length with three of the major players in the SB 840 debate—Senator Kuehl (D-23rd), Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-33rd) and Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-6th). While Kuehl and Ackerman make their arguments for and against portions of the bill, Nation—a longtime proponent of health care reform—ruminates on the failings of the policy-making process itself.

SB 840 may not be the ultimate prescription for California's health care crisis, but even in veto, it hasn't outlived its usefulness.

Q&A: CA State Senator Sheila Kuehl

Q&A: CA State Senator Dick Ackerman

Q&A: CA Assemblyman Joe Nation