Schwarzenegger to call special legislative session on health care |

Schwarzenegger to call special legislative session on health care

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Monday he will call a special session of the state Legislature to deal with health care, as lawmakers debated a Democratic plan he has pledged to veto.

The state Senate passed that plan on a 22-17 vote and sent it to the Assembly shortly after the governor announced his intention.

Health care is the governor’s top priority this year, and the special session would buy time for him to strike a deal with Democrats on how to cover millions of uninsured Californians.

The regular legislative session is scheduled to end this week, and the two sides remain at odds.

Schwarzenegger announced the decision in Los Angeles during an event in which billionaire Eli Broad donated $20 million for stem cell research. His office said a formal statement would come later Monday.

“What everyone wants, and what we all want, is access to health care so it is affordable and so that everyone can have health care,” Schwarzenegger said at the University of California, Los Angeles. “So we are working on this right now. We’re going to have an extended session, a special session that we are calling today.”

Schwarzenegger says the Democrats’ bill asks too much of employers, while they reject his demand that health insurance be mandatory. The Democratic plan he has threatened to veto was being considered Monday in the Senate, which expected to approve it and send it to the state Assembly.

Democrats expect Schwarzenegger’s veto and pledge to work with him to reach agreement during the special session.

“It’s much too important to make progress than it is to stand on each side of our lines,” Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, said during the Senate debate.

Both sides are proposing what would be the nation’s most ambitious health care reform proposal since the failure of the Clinton plan nearly 15 years ago, given California’s population and the number of uninsured in the state.

While all sides acknowledged a health care deal is likely to come during the special session, the debate over the Democratic plan in the Senate revealed sharp differences between Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Democrats urged passage of the bill to show that lawmakers are working toward a solution to the state’s health care problems. But Republicans said it was pointless to pass a bill that Schwarzenegger already has promised to veto. They also said the Democrats” plan would drive up health costs even further.

Republicans are concerned about proposed fees on employers to help fund the coverage expansion. That amount is 7.5 percent of payroll in the Democratic plan, which could be raised in subsequent years, and 4 percent under the governor’s plan.

“This 7.5 percent tax is going to make sure that many hundreds of businesses across this state are going to close their doors, because they can’t afford it,” said Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley. “This plan does absolutely nothing to contain costs.”

The Democrats’ bill would raise fees on employers and expand public programs to cover about 3.4 million of the 4.9 million people who have no insurance throughout the year.

The governor’s plan has a broader funding base and would cover more people, about 4.1 million. Funding would come from hospitals, doctors, employers and the federal government.

While the Democrats’ bill can pass on a simple majority, the governor’s approach needs a two-thirds vote, which means Republicans would have to support it. They have vowed to block any tax or fee increases to fund health care.

A way around the impasse might be for the Legislature’s Democratic majority to pass the framework of a health care deal in a special session, then let voters decide whether they want to pay for it. Funding sources could include a sales tax, as well as new taxes on employers and hospitals.

But most voters already have health insurance and may not want to raise their taxes to pay for the uninsured. The ballot measure also could face opposition from some powerful interest groups, such as the California Nurses Association, which supports a government run single-payer system.

Hundreds of nurses swarmed the hallways of the Capitol on Monday to demonstrate against the Democrats’ bill, which they say is a giveaway to insurance companies. They also oppose the governor’s plan.

The Democrats’ bill is co-authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.

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