California Health Bill Killed; Senate Panel Cites Concerns about Costs

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Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's universal health care initiative was killed yesterday by a legislative committee, dealing the governor his biggest legislative defeat while effectively scrapping his most ambitious policy goal.

The state Senate Health Committee voted almost unanimously to defeat the $14.9 billion proposal, which would have given Californians the most extensive government-backed health-care coverage in the nation. The program would have extended health insurance to most uninsured residents, required insurance companies to offer coverage to all and subsidized those unable to afford insurance.

The proposal, introduced after a year of negotiations between the Republican governor and Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, would have paid for the coverage through a payroll tax, a hospital fee and a $1.75-per-pack tax on cigarettes.

Despite the high-profile support, however, the measure garnered only one vote on the 11-member Senate Health Committee after legislators raised concerns about approving the ambitious program while the state grapples with a $14.5 billion budget shortfall.

"It doesn't matter how many good things are in the bill if there isn't money to pay for them," said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the committee chairman.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who proposed comprehensive health-care reform in his 2007 State of the State speech, said he would continue "trying to fix our broken health-care system."

"I am someone who does not give up. Especially when there is a problem as big and as serious as health care that needs to be fixed," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "One setback is just that - a setback. I still believe comprehensive health care reform is needed in California. We will keep moving forward. I can promise you that."

Mr. Nunez called the bill's defeat "a victory for tobacco companies, the insurance industry and the shameful status quo. …