By Daniel Zarchy
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned over much more than a new leaf these days, as he is pushing forward his proposal to provide universal health care to all residents of California, documented and otherwise.
This proposed legislation, which the governor introduced in his State of the State Address on Jan. 9, would provide every Californian with medical insurance througheither their employer or the government. Employers of 10 or more workers not offering their employees insurance would have to deposit four percent of their payroll into a general fund that would help pay for cheap health care for the uninsured. All Californians would be required to have some sort of health insurance if the plan is adopted.
California, the fourth state in the nation to propose this type of socialized health insurance system, has nearly 6.5 million uninsured residents.
Sabrina Lockhart, deputy press secretary for Gov. Schwarzenegger, explained that emergency rooms are legally required to provide emergency services to anyone, whether they have insurance or not, and that these costs came out of taxpayers’ pockets anyway. By providing cheap health care, it could reduce costs for all Californians.
"With everyone having health care coverage, they won’t have to go to the emergency room for non-emergency care," Lockhart said in an interview with City on a Hill Press. "We’re seeing a problem where hospitals with emergency rooms are closing all over the state; more than 60 ERs in California have closed in the last decade because they can’t afford to treat people without insurance."
She went on to explain that employers who offer their employees insurance would receive large tax incentives, as they could pay for the insurance with pre-tax dollars.
However, when asked to comment on the potential political fallout from Republican leadership as a result of this move, Lockhart refused to answer the question directly, simply reiterating that "Governor Schwarzenegger is committed to providing quality health care to all Californians."
A spokesperson from Kaiser Permanente, a major insurance provider for the state of California, felt that the governor shared Kaiser’s views.
"We share his goal of providing access to high-quality health coverage for all Californians," he said. "Any universal health care proposal should strengthen and sustain the safety net by providing more reliable funds."Ryan Oprea, assistant professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz, had mixed feelings on the issue.
"I think it has some good things about it and some bad things about it," Oprea said. "One good thing is that it has most people shopping on their own for private insurance. If you are going to force people to have health insurance, the best way is to require people-the ones who can afford it-to buy their own."
"Because federal laws allow employers (and only employers) to use pre-tax dollars," Oprea continued, "employers end up paying a lot less than other consumers."
With Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed plan, even if employers do not offer health care, the four percent they will pay to help subsidize it for others will also come from pre-tax dollars, lowering the cost for consumers seeking health care outside of their employers.
"I think there are a number of problems with the plan, specifically those dealing with how to extend insurance to the uninsured," Oprea said. " As it is, the plan will massively expand a likely inefficient and already unwieldy bureaucracy… It would make a lot more sense to give vouchers to the uninsured to buy their own insurance in a competitive market."