The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

A Health Care Reform Initiative May Be Unprecedented, But Its A Sound Idea

Posted by Alan on September 15, 2007


I have a great deal of respect and admiration for George Skelton, the veteran Los Angeles Times journalist. Yet I have to take issue with his September 13th column in which he takes Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Legislative Leadership to task for contemplating an initiative to fund the health care reforms expected to come out of the upcoming legislative special session.

Mr. Skelton claims the initiative would “confirm many people’s view that the Legislature is indecisive and irrelevant.” He also warns that by backing an initiative, Governor Schwarzenegger “would further alienate Republican legislators. He would be shunting them aside again, signaling that they’re not needed.” He goes on to question the timing of an initiative. It would likely be on the November 2008 ballot — more than a year after the special session adjourns and shortly after a bruising budget battle which is likely to be worse than what we endured this year.

Much of what Mr. Skelton says is true. People do hold the Legislature in low regard. Republican lawmakers are increasingly marginalized (and will likely continue to be until the way we draw legislative districts in the state is changed so as to make more of them competitive). The timing of the initiative is unfortunate.

Yet, it also is the right thing to do. What makes the initiative route worth traveling is that it holds out the promise of making comprehensive health care reform a reality. The Legislature is impotent any time a two-thirds majority vote is required. The Governor, Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata could ram there heads against that wall, lose and slink away. Instead, they’re taking the only path the current political reality in California leaves them.

Is the need for an initiative an example of a healthy state government? No, in fact it’s evidence of just how dysfunctional state government has become. Will it bring the state meaningful health care reform? It certainly holds out that promise. The key, of course, is whether the framework of reform, including the elements that don’t require passage by a two-thirds vote, will actually make California’s health care system better. Based on the version of Assembly Bill 8 passed by the Legislature, the answer is no. Hopefully the special session will produce more responsible legislation, something worthy of being financed by the very necessary initiative.

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