Schwarzenegger on health reform: Demand compromise
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES ” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday offered advice to the Obama administration from his own failed experience on health care reform: Listen to everyone and demand compromise.
Schwarzenegger and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire co-hosted the White House-sponsored summit in Los Angeles, the fifth and final in a series of meetings around the country led by governors.
The forum brought together consumer and health care groups, unions, insurance companies and business owners, many of whom were part of Schwarzenegger’s attempt two years ago to provide universal health care.
His plan died in the state Senate after the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found it would start costing taxpayers up to $1.5 billion annually within five years ” and perhaps up to $3 billion a year.
“I remember the first meeting that we had in Sacramento with the stakeholders. There were people sitting there that have been fighting and arguing for years,” Schwarzenegger said, recalling the start of behind-the-scenes negotiations that lasted nearly a year.
He said he warned the labor, business, health, insurance and consumer groups they would all have to give up something to reach a deal.
“You cannot sit here and ask for a straight 10 on health care reform, each one of you, because each one of (your) straight 10s doesn’t pencil out, doesn’t bring us together. You have to settle for a 7 maybe,” the Republican governor said. “Compromise is absolutely the most essential thing.”
Schwarzenegger’s 2007 health care plan was intended to cover about 70 percent of what then were an estimated 5.1 million uninsured California residents. Schwarzenegger said Monday that there are now 6.8 million uninsured people in California.
His plan kept the current private system intact but included several key features sought by interest groups on all sides: The plan would have guaranteed that Californians could not be denied health coverage based on age or medical history but also would have mandated that nearly everyone buy coverage, a provision demanded by insurers.
It passed the state Assembly in December 2007 on a party-line vote, with no Republican support, and died a month later in a Senate committee dominated by Democrats who favored a single-payer system overseen by the government.
Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed bills seeking to create a single-payer system in California. Last year’s bill would have left the state with a $42 billion shortfall during its first full year, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst.
Even so, that’s the type of reform favored by one of Schwarzenegger’s most persistent foes, the California Nurses Association.
Nurses were outside Monday’s meeting at the nonprofit California Endowment, hosting a noisy protest rally. The association said its idea of a single-payer system was being shut out of discussions about health reform.
Nurses, doctors and other union members walked with a Trojan horse and chanted “Californians should beware, insurance companies just don’t care.”
“They told us all options are on the table. This (single-payer) is not on the table. This is not being talked about,” said Geri Jenkins, an intensive care surgical nurse and co-president of the association’s national organizing committee.
Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kim Belshe, said the governor and Obama were both seeking a “reasonable and responsible” middle ground.
“The answer to this problem is a combination of public and private solutions,” Belshe said outside the forum. “The president and the governor have both tried to drive that (discussion) toward the middle.”
Schwarzenegger also advised Monday that to bring down costs, any national proposal should create a universal system that covers everyone and includes illness prevention. The former bodybuilder launched a lengthy discussion about healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking.
Gregoire, a Democrat, noted that some people have criticized Obama for taking on too much so early in his term, saying he should focus on fixing the economy. But she said America cannot recover without fixing its health care market.
“It’s not only a moral imperative, it is an economic imperative,” Gregoire said.