Nunez Says Comprehensive Health Care Reform Dead in California This Year: A Deeper Look at What This Means5 min read

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Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez spoke at yesterday’s Sacramento Press Club and had a lot on his mind to share with the assembled press corp. You can listen to the entire address he gave including his answers to questions while he was at the podium. Much of this has been covered in today’s articles and broadcast clips. But as to health care, what he told a gaggle of reporters outside afterwards, gives more clues as to what, if anything, will emerge from Sacramento on health care—now that the compromise bill he negotiated with Governor Schwarzenegger is dead—notwithstanding the Governor’s statement that it is not.

A few of the main points before we turn to the health issue. Nunez has had difficulties with his voice for the last several weeks. Near the outset of his remarks yesterday, he revealed that he has just learned from his doctors that he has developed a nodule on his vocal chords that will require laser surgery, and that following that he will not be able to “say a word” for three whole weeks. He is postponing the surgery, but said that: “If this thing bursts, I’m going to have permanent damage to my vocal chords. I’ve got to be very careful not to overextend or overuse my voice. I have to speak in shorter sentences, which is really hard, and I also need to eventually go back to the doctor and remove this thing.”

This didn’t keep him from speaking for 45 minutes. He’s going to have a hard time following his doctor’s advice. A Speaker of the Assembly who can’t speak? He also revealed he is going to be campaigning in Texas for the next few weekends for Hillary Clinton, and you can bet he’s not going to be mute in that capacity.

Shortly this morning, he will introduce the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa who will be speaking on the Assembly Floor.

Plus the budget, which Nunez said will be dealt with on Friday if plans work out. He said he was “pretty confident” that “we are very close to reaching an agreement that we can live with, if only we can find a way to convince the Republicans that they ought to be able to live with it as well.” There are a fair number of qualifiers here, if you diagram that sentence.

Outside, after his speech, he provided a few more details—close to $1 billion in midyear cuts—said Assembly Democrats were in agreement with the number that the Governor proposed, but not the way to get there, the Governor’s “road map” as he put it. We will be getting more details on this tomorrow, the day before the vote, probably. He would like to do this with consensus from Assembly Republicans and a two-thirds vote, but if this is not possible it will be passed as a straight majority vote bill. More on this as details emerge.

As to health care: Outside on the sidewalk, with tape records and cameras rolling, he clarified his comment from the podium that health care was dead, was as to “comprehensive health care reform.” He was quite animated discussing recent headlines that Blue Cross was asking physicians to help in canceling medical insurance by asking for information about pre-existing conditions (including even prior preganancies). He said: “No comperehensive health care package, but reforms to help improve the current health care system—abolutely. I mean, this thing was outrageous, what I read in this morning’s LA Times about Blue Cross—senidng letters to doctors so they can keep people out of their plans?! There’s no question that we’re going to have to do things like that.”

Nunez spoke of these bills as “piecemeal approaches.” He said: “You can rest assued that there will be legislation to clamp down on some of the immoral, and I believe illegal, activities on the part of the HMO’s to kick people out of their plans and not provide them the care that they need –after they’re paying their premium on a monthly basis.”

I pressed him about what his comments mean as to SB 840, Senator Sheila Kuehl’s single payer health bill that he supported in the last session and in comments throughout the current session. He said: “I’m happy to entertain a conversation about single payer, but again, I am going to be asking the Legislative Analyst for a thorough review of what the impact on the General Fund is going to be if we follow through with single payer. I expect to have a very thorough analysis and hearing on the matter before we take any action whatsoever on it.”

Translation: SB 840 will have a tough road to hoe in the Assembly, where it now resides. It passed the California Senate on June 6, 2007 on a 23 to 15 partisan vote. It passed the Assembly Health Committee on July 9 with amendments, and has been pending ever since then in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

With the defeat of AB 1X 1, the Speaker’s bill, it is going to be an uphill struggle to get the Assembly to pass SB 840 this year. Even if it does pass the Assembly, it then will go to the Senate for concurrence in amendments, and given how AB 1X 1 was dealt with—not getting a single Republican vote—it may have difficulties passing there. Governor Schwarzenegger is dead set against it and it will be vetoed by him.

If California ever passes comprehensive health care reform, it will have to be taken up in 2009—or on the ballot. Nevertheless, a fiscal hearing on the bill might not be a bad idea to get it vetted even more, as it has been for the last several years.

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