California state Assembly passes health care reform

SACRAMENTO, Calif. California’s state Assembly on Monday approved Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan for universal health insurance for residents of California regardless of socio-economic levels.

While other states have revamped their health care systems, California’s may wind up being used as a model for national health care reform, leading to a viable option for universal health care for the entire United States, even as the issue is debated in the 2008 presidential races.

Under the plan, which still must pass the California state Senate, insurers could not deny coverage regardless of age or medical history and must spend at least 85 cents of every premium dollar on patient care. Everyone in the state, however, would be required to buy health insurance, though costs would be more affordable for the low-income individuals who are among the state’s 6.5 million uninsured.

In addition, the new plan will address such chronic conditions as diabetes, obesity and smoking by providing broad access to preventive care and enacting the “Healthy Actions” programs

The California Pharmacists Association has come out in favor of the plan, lauding both Republican Schwarzenegger and Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat, for their collaborative efforts. “Pharmacists are fully aware of the many problems encountered by the uninsured in California and recognize the crucial need to fix our broken health care system now,” said Lynn Rolston, chief executive officer for the CPA. “They are on the front lines and witness, daily, people in need of life-saving medications who cannot afford them. The proposed reform is a move in the right direction to helping Californians in need.”

The measures would also provide funding for community clinics in order to attempt to ease stress on overcrowded emergency rooms, which provide the most expensive health care and act as a safety net for the uninsured.

The state, which is currently facing a $14 billion budget gap, plans to pay for the plan by taxing hospitals, cigarettes and employers who do not provide health insurance. Senate president pro tem Don Perata, a Democrat, said he has ordered an analysis of the long-term fiscal effects of the bill. “This analysis, combined with the governor’s proposed budget, will help determine how we can move forward in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said, according to Reuters.

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