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Coalition to support a state healthcare plan

Groups with a stake in universal access will back the governor's goal if not his exact proposal.

February 06, 2007|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In a boost to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political priority for the year, some of the biggest players in the state's healthcare industry have agreed to commit millions of dollars to a campaign for universal healthcare access.

The yet-unnamed alliance, which plans to announce its creation today, includes a labor giant, the Service Employees International Union; the state's largest doctors lobby, the California Medical Assn.; the state's biggest nonprofit hospital chain, Catholic Healthcare West; and three major insurers: Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield of California and Health Net.

"For the first time ever, the major players are not in their bunkers throwing grenades at each other," said Joe Dunn, chief executive of the California Medical Assn. "Everyone is coming together in a sincere effort to work out a plan for reforming medicine in California in a way that works to improve patients' ability to be treated by their doctor."

The coalition's members have not agreed to support all elements of any plan that emerges from negotiations with Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, and in fact several have expressed concerns about the governor's proposal. But the alliance members said they would support the effort to ensure access to medical care for all Californians and have accepted Schwarzenegger's notion of "shared responsibility" -- that all participants in healthcare, including patients, insurers and businesses, must give up something.

The alliance's formation is intended to counter any campaign that arises to block an overhaul of the state's healthcare system. Such concerns are not hypothetical: A referendum paid for mostly by business groups in 2004 was able to nullify California's last major effort at expanding medical insurance by repealing a law that would have required all mid- and large-size employers to provide coverage.

Last month, a conservative small-business group aired television ads saying Schwarzenegger's healthcare plan would "throw your tax dollars away on a big government bureaucracy."

The new alliance does not include members who helped repeal the last law in 2004, but organizers said they hoped to expand its reach in coming weeks and establish as broad a coalition as possible. Although most of the members of the alliance supported the previous healthcare law, which in fact was written by the California Medical Assn. and labor, all have much to lose as well as gain if Schwarzenegger's proposal becomes law.

His plan includes a 2% levy on doctors' profits and a 4% fee on hospital operations. Insurers would have to provide coverage to all who wanted it, regardless of their healthcare history, and also would face limits on profits.

"We didn't want to see comprehensive proposals picked apart by people who object to one piece of it," said Tom Epstein, a spokesman for Blue Shield. The alliance, he said, "requires negotiating in good faith and accepting that we're all going to have to compromise and not stick it to each other to get what we want."

Participants have not committed to specific amounts of money to put into the campaign, organizers said, but will at a minimum be able to run a multimillion-dollar campaign.

Schwarzenegger has been trying to build support and was to meet with the California Business Roundtable's board today but so far has not won such a strong commitment as the new alliance's to finding a solution to the high costs of health insurance and the 6 million people who lack coverage.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn praised the formation of the alliance.

"You're seeing a coalition of opposites ignite because they all believe the healthcare system is broken," he said. "That's a very dramatic statement."

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