Life after Anna Nicole Smith

Now that the mystery of who fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s child has been resolved, perhaps we can go on to more important, albeit far less interesting matters, like health care, ending the war and addressing global warming. Of course, focusing on these matters is far less interesting, but with all the intrigue and suspense gone, we just might have to bite-the-bullet and consider that there are other pressing matters to deal with.
Fortunately, the California legislature has made that call and after a week’s vacation for Easter, Passover and other celebrations, they’re back dealing with issues that actually will impact our daily lives. Although hundreds of bills are back in play-from the sublime to the ridiculous, there are a number of interesting and significant health-care related bills that continue to move forward.

The most significant and ground-breaking of these measures continues to be Senator Sheila Kuehl’s SB840, the Health Care for All proposal, which creates a Medicare type single-payor system for all Californians. The key to this bill is that it removes the predatory insurance industry from the equation completely, thus returning 25-35% of each premium dollar paid to the actual delivery of healthcare services. Since Governor Schwarzenegger continues to be beholden to the Insurance Industry, he’s already vetoed this measure once and has indicated he’ll do it again.
Of course, he’s proposed his own “measure” that continues to be devoid of specifics and most importantly an author, (in other words, there is no vehicle for his proposal at all) but that hasn’ stopped him in the past. The buzz is that he’ll wait until SB 840 is sent to a conference committee to be considered along with several other less dramatic measures later this year. It is expected that the Governor will then present the members of the Conference Committee with his list of requirements to be included in any measure coming to his desk for signature.
While that dance is playing out, several proposals, including bills by Senator Perata and Speaker Nunez try to create health access for more of the uninsured. Of course, neither of these measures confronts the insurance industry head-on. There are, in addition, a number of other bills designed to try to reign in their virtually unregulated ability to raise rates and refuse coverage to those whose claims are determined by them to burden their profits.
One measure that does try to hold down health insurance premiums was introduced today by Assemblymember Dave Jones (D Sacramento). The measure, AB 1554 requires that prior approval be obtained from the state’s Department of Managed Care or Department of Insurance before health insurance rates can be increased. Currently, the insurance companies can raise their rates whenever and however they want.
Those who have been lucky enough to have health insurance has seen their premiums skyrocket over the past several years. According the the Kaiser Family Foundation, those premiums for employer-sponsored policies have increased a staggering 87% over the last six years. When put in context, the average rise in wages over that same period of time has been 20% and inflation 18%. In other words, wages haven’t increased nearly enough to cover this big jump in cost. For many, those costs have made health insurance unaffordable.
While the real answer is some form of health care program that takes the gluttonous insurance industry out of the equation, the legislature is hard at work trying to fashion measures that will try, at least until we have a governor who understands that the insurance industry offers no added value to healthcare, to fix some aspects of this very broken system. Let’s hope for the 6.5 million uninsured people in this state that the fix doesn’t come too late.