It has been one year from euphoria to defeat. On the
morning of Jan. 8, 2007, I sat on the dais in Sacramento that served as the
starting pistol of the comprehensive health reform
debate. After years of failed attempts to significantly
reform our health care system, it appeared that the
combination of the governor’s and the Legislature’s vision and desire would finally result in a breakthrough.
Commentators remarked that no matter how the battle
over the details of a reform package might play out,
the governor’s, the speaker’s and the Senate pro tem’s policy principles were not only sensible, they challenged
California to pursue a more ambitious and historic
step in the right direction.
Californians delivered a not-so-subtle message to the governor and the Legislature
that our health care system is in need of major changes
and those changes need to happen now. This sentiment
has been reinforced month after month, with pollsters
reporting that public opinion data showed health reform
enjoyed overwhelming support.
Now, in the wake of the Senate Health Committee’s failure to take action on ABX1, a year after the euphoria of the governor’s comments and the Legislature’s strong desire to get something done, health reform
yet again has been blocked. There is no question that
Californians’ hopes for achieving comprehensive health reform took
a decidedly disappointing step backward, but California’s leaders cannot let it end there.
At this critical juncture, Legislators and the governor
must resist the temptation to engage in the requisite
ritual of finger-pointing about who is to blame. While assigning fault
makes good headlines, it will do next to nothing to
help lower health care costs or provide health insurance
to a child who needs to see a doctor. Instead, we need
political courage in Sacramento to meet the mandate
issued by Californians. Now is the time for our leaders
to act and deliver a much-needed win for Californians.
So as a former practicing physician, what is my suggested
prescription for our leaders? Take those areas of agreement
between business, labor, doctors, health providers,
and consumer advocates and pass a package that would
significantly improve California’s health care system. Such a package would create insurance
market reforms; it would extend coverage to California’s 800,000 uninsured kids and give our state the distinction
of ensuring that all of our children have health insurance; and it would provide funding for health reform while
continuing to support California’s hospitals.
At the same time, our leaders must make certain that
the budget deficit does not put the health care system
in more jeopardy.
Proposed health care cuts in public programs will
likely result in more Californians losing health insurance
and will weaken our fragile system even further. Taking
a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach in how we handle the budget crisis
will mean the difference between success and failure
when it comes to health care reform. We need to make
sure we’re doing everything we can to protect those vital programs
this year. We need to build a bridge to reform, not
tear it down before we build it up.
Will these actions have the same level of impact as
the proposed health reform package? No. But will they
provide critically important and achievable steps that
bring California closer to fixing our health care system?
Absolutely, and after over a year of intense negotiations
and hard work, we must salvage the opportunity to move
California forward and produce both a political and
policy win that can have profound implications of the
future of health care reform in our state and the nation.
Our leaders cannot let this year be remembered for
what didn’t happen and the missed opportunities that could have
been. Rather, our legislative leaders need to remember
that California’s parents, their children, our elderly, and the working
poor need action on health reform now. Anything less
is wholly unacceptable.