What will happen to me if I get sick or injured and can’t pay my bills?
On the domestic front, that’s a key question on voters’ minds as the November elections approach. A poll of working women, released on August 8 by the AFL-CIO, indicated that concern about access to quality medical coverage was rated the top issue by 97 percent of respondents, outpolling the income gap between women and men for the first time. MoveOn members, asked to vote on issues that they believe should define a “new positive agenda” ranked healthcare for all persons at the top of the list.
In California, one of the country’s largest states and a decisive election-year battleground, the growing momentum behind healthcare reform is pushing two sharply different approaches into public view.
The first, a proposal for universal healthcare coverage, is presented in Senate Bill 840, authored by Southern California’s State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-23). SB 840 would provide universal, comprehensive healthcare insurance to Californians while protecting consumers’ ability to choose their own doctors. Under the SB 840 model, consumers and businesses would pay an income or payroll-based premium for a “solid, comprehensive plan” that includes medical, dental, vision, prescription drug, hospitalization and emergency coverage. Medical care provision would remain as the mix of private and not-for-profit business that it is now. SB 840 would also mandate that California use its purchasing power to negotiate bulk rates for prescription drugs and medical equipment. (The administrative costs for medical care in California would drop below 5 percent of total costs, compared to the whopping 25 to 30 percent currently being spent.)
On the other side, on June 16, Sandra Shewry, Governor Schwarzenegger’s Director of the Department of Health Services hosted a meeting of journalists to discuss the possibility of “Massachusetts-style health reform” in California. As it turned out, uninvited healthcare experts and advocates showed up, as well, to deliver an early warning: Massachusetts’ so-called universal healthcare plan is already bad news for the people of Massachusetts and would be a disaster for California.