December 2009

CALPIRG Scorecard - How Did Your Representative Vote?

By Pedro Morrillas

CALPIRG compiles an annual legislative scorecard for all members of the California legislature, to educate the public about their representatives' voting records and hold elected officials accountable.

Our 2009 scorecard focuses on key consumer votes in the legislature.

Find out how your State Assemblymember voted here.

Find out how your State Senator voted here

Thirteen state Senators and twenty-five state Assemblymembers received 100 percent scores for their strong record of voting to protect consumers, rather than special interests.

The average score in the Assembly is 66 percent. The average score in the Senate is 65 percent.

A 2009 Consumer Review and New Laws Going into Effect Today

By Zack Kaldveer
Consumer Federation of California

Every year the Consumer Federation of California monitors dozens of consumer rights related bills - supporting legislation that protects the public interest and opposing corporate attempts to maximize profit at the consumer’s expense. Each year, many of these bills are "killed" in the legislature while many others reach the Governor's desk to either be signed into law or vetoed.

Some of the most important consumer protection laws - which CFC actively supported - going into effect on January 1st, 2010, include:

That Ticking Sound is the Lifetime Limits in the Senate Healthcare Bill

By Eric Wooten
What’s your life worth? Under the Senate’s healthcare bill, a lot less than you might guess.
When President Obama promised that any healthcare bill he signed would eliminate lifetime and annual limits on coverage, members of both houses of Congress applauded.
If you have health insurance already, this sounds pretty good, right?  Wrong. 
Under the Senate version of the healthcare bill, caps are NOT eliminated for existing policies. If you have health insurance now, your caps remain in place, unless you can get a new health insurance policy. But since most new (and affordable) plans are only going to the young and healthy, this leaves most of us out in the cold.

2009 Year in Review: The Best & Worst of Times...

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

For health care in California, the year 2009 was the best of times, and the worst of times.

The year began with the hope and excitement of new Obama Administration—especially, for health advocates, for a new president that made health reform a central part of his campaign. The good news from Washington, DC, started quickly, with the reauthorization of the SCHIP program that covers low-income children, which had been vetoed in previous years.

But the California budget crisis loomed, with nothing more symbolically showing the disconnect between the federal possibilities and state problems than Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal to eliminate the state’s SCHIP coverage for a million low-income children in its entirety—and actually have that program, Healthy Families, close enrollment and be a week away from sending out hundreds of thousands of disenrollment notices.

Historic Bills Expanding LGBT Rights and Resources Become Law

By Geoff Kors
Equality California

On January 1, three new pieces of legislation expanding rights and resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community will go into effect in California. Among the new laws, each sponsored by Equality California, include a bill that recognizes the marriage of thousands of same-sex couples regardless of when or where they were married, a bill increasing services to LGBT survivors of domestic violence and a third recognizing the contributions of slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk.

The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), holds that same-sex couples married in any state or nation anytime before the passage of Proposition 8 must be recognized as married spouses in California, regardless of whether they married in California or in another state or nation.

Happy to Have Been a “Friend of Bill” Cavala

By Frank D. Russo

My friend Bill Cavala has died. Sunday morning, I received a phone call and was stunned. When I got over the initial shock, I asked the caller who should write an article and he said “Frank, you should.” 

This is a daunting task—how do you encapsulate the rich life of a real character, an active doer of politics who made a difference in the outcomes of so many campaigns and who at the same time was a sagacious observer of the human condition?    Doctor Cavala was a professional, an academic, analytical and scientific in his advice, and yet an emotional and passionate politico. Someone who enjoyed skewering his political opponents and yet had a soft spot for their frailties.  And who made so many of his barbed points with humor. 

We Expected Better of the Network That Gave Us Edward R. Murrow

by Jane Wagner-Tyack
Restore the Delta

"60 Minutes" had a chance to take on California agribusiness and water mismanagement the way they took on Big Tobacco. They blew that chance. 

Instead, this past Sunday we got a CBS-ified version of Fox's Sean Hannity, complete with dry Westlands acreage, smelt-in-the-hand, and out of work Latinos.  So hackneyed was Leslie Stahl's fish- vs.-farmer formulation that even the Governor dodged it.

The Governor took Stahl on a flyover of the Delta and didn't say a single word about all the people who live and farm there.  We got to see him standing in front of the Latino Water Coalition, and Stahl never raised the issue of whom that coalition really represents. Sloppy.  Was anyone at CBS doing any research?

Ways To Fix The Senate Health Reform Bill...

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

Staffers for the House and the Senate are already starting to talk about the negotiations needed to reconcile the two different versions of health reform.

Since the Senate is seen as a more delicate compromise, some people think the final product would look much closer to the Senate version. While it is important to be realistic, I think there will be some significant improvements from the Senate.

There are some compromises that have been made which were very contentious, and probably won't get reopened. But as the opponents tell us, it is a 2,000+ page bill, so there lots of opportunity for improvements in other areas.

California’s “Physician Hiring Ban” Keeps Doctors From Serving Low Income Communities

By Dr. Larry A. Bedard

While there are differences in opinion as to whether the various proposed reforms at the federal level will fix our heath care crisis, there should be no question that at the heart of the problem in California is the glaring shortage of doctors now practicing or in the pipeline to treat its rural and low income residents.

A snapshot of California Senate districts illustrates the severity of the problem: In Senator Florez’s District more than 20% of citizens live in areas designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as “Designated Physician Shortage Areas”; in Senator Negrete-McCloud’s district - nearly 15%; Senator Oropeza’s district – more than 15%; Senator Wyland’s district- nearly 10%.

In Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s district more than 188,000 citizens live in physician shortage areas. Access to doctors in these and other areas throughout the state is inadequate and unacceptable.

More On Enforcing The Medical Loss Ratio

By David Dayen

Last week I wrote about the medical loss ratio and wondered who would enforce it. It’s part of a broader issue about enforcement, given that the health care bill has settled on a regulatory reform model instead of a public insurance model.

I asked Sen. Al Franken’s office for some guidance on this. Sen. Franken was the leading voice in getting the 85/80% medical loss ratio into the Senate bill, and has used the provision as an example of the positive aspects of the reform package. Here’s how they responded:

I just spoke to our MLR expert before she caught her plane home to MN and she explained that part of the benefit of having a federal law is to have a uniform definition and calculation for these measures. Making this law at the federal level gives us the ability to have better oversight.

Who Will Redraw Our Districts?

By Alice Kessler
Equality California

Californians have until February 12, 2010 to apply for the first ever Citizens Redistricting Commission, established last year by a voter initiative.

The intent behind the new law was to de-politicize the highly-charged redistricting process and take it out of the hands of Sacramento insiders. It’s important to have a commission that reflects the diversity of our state, but the make-up of who’s applied so far is troubling.

California is a “majority minority” state with a roughly equal amount of men and women. Now compare that with the latest statistics on eligible applicants for the redistricting commission.

A Difficult Decade

By Clint Reilly

With only two days left in the first decade of the 21st century, it’s hardly a surprise that many Americans are heaving a sigh of relief. The rest are likely holding their breath until the clock strikes midnight.

And who could blame them? By virtually any metric, the last 10 years have been extraordinarily difficult ones for the United States.

The Internet gold rush that began in the mid 90s had reached fever pitch by early 2000. I remember speaking to a Berkeley freshman at the time who was starting an online business from his dorm room. I asked him about his business plan.

“I don’t need a business plan,” he told me. “I could take my mom public right now and make a million dollars!”

Needless to say, the dot-com era ran headlong into a buzz saw in March of 2000. When investors realized that a bad company with “.com” at the end was still a bad company, the bubble exploded.

What The Feds Owe Us, And What We Owe Ourselves

By Pete Schrag
California Progress Report Columnist

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the first California governor to complain that the state gets shortchanged in federal funding. California contributes more than its share in federal taxes and gets less than its share in federal programs, contracts and aid. But in a severe state budget crisis, the inequities, easy to slough off in good times, become harder to ignore and the injustice more infuriating.

Last week the governor dispatched a letter to California’s congressional delegation focused on the inequities in federal Medicaid funding (in California it’s Medi-Cal) , pointing out that states like Texas, Florida and Michigan are reimbursed at much higher rates for their costs than California. The difference between what California gets and the average of the ten largest states, he said, runs to $2.2 billion

Glimmer of Hope for California Health Reformers in Senate Bill

By Richard Holober
Consumer Federation of California

The health care reform bill just approved by the US Senate contains a provision that allows a state to develop an innovative health insurance program and obtain a waiver from the federal individual insurance mandate and insurance exchange requirements.

This language is a rare exception to a US Senate bill that is more insurance-industry dominated than the House of Representatives bill. The waiver language offers a glimmer of hope to California health care reformers who are dismayed by the Senate’s elimination of a public insurance option that is included in the House bill.

The language for the state waiver is found on pages 212-219 of the Senate bill.

Federal Court Accuses Administration and Attorney General’s Office of Lying in Medi-Cal Provider Rate Cut Case

By Marto Omoto
California Disability Community Action Network

In a major victory for disability and senior advocates, a three judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday (December 21) issued a stunning and strongly worded rebuke against the Schwarzenegger Administration and Attorney General Jerry Brown accusing their representatives of lying to the court in "clear violation" of California State Bar rules against misleading judges. All attorneys practicing law in the state must be licensed by the California State Bar.

Governor Wants "Flexibility" To Cut Health Care

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

So the U.S. Senate passes a major health reform bill on Christmas. There were lots of responses of congratulations, even from those who seek significant changes. Not so much from Governor Schwarzenegger:

Bank CEOs, Tithe Your Bonuses to Jobs Recovery

By Alan Fisher
California Reinvestment Coalition

With banks’ bonus pools expected to hit record highs in 2009, the California Reinvestment Coalition delivered letters to CEOs of the four biggest banks calling on them to tithe 10 percent of their executive compensation—about $19 million—to go toward a “Main Street Stimulus” for jobs recovery.

The four biggest banks are Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which together hold 60 percent of deposits in California.

Banks were bailed out by taxpayers on the premise that they would lend and support economic recovery, yet today the credit crunch for small businesses is worse than ever. This holiday season, since the public had to give banks such a generous gift, we propose that top bank executives give back from their bloated bonuses to help create the jobs our economy desperately needs.

Arnold's Christmas Present to California: More Cuts!

By Robert Cruickshank

Shane Goldmacher got the scoop over at the LA Times on Arnold Schwarzenegger's plans to close the budget gap in January 2010: more cuts! Lots of cuts! Huge, wacko, crazy cuts!

Facing a budget deficit of more than $20 billion, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to call for deep reductions in already suffering local mass transit programs, renew his push to expand oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast and appeal to Washington for billions of dollars in federal help, according to state officials and lobbyists familiar with the plan.

Senate Bill Proclaims Health Care Is Not a Right; It’s a Business Where the Customer Gets Fleeced

By Richard Holober

Wall Street knows a gold mine when it sees one, and it likes what it saw in the Senate health care bill.  Health insurance company stocks soared to an 18 month high the day the Democrats reached the magic 60 votes needed for passage of its overhaul bill. 
For the better part of a year, Congressional Democrats have labored mightily, only to give birth to a mouse of a reform.  After being truncated in the House, the public option is now gone for good, as is the possibility of Medicare eligibility for those below the age of 65. With those threats removed, private insurers will benefit substantially from a bill that delivers them 32 million new customers, with virtually no cost controls and no price competition.


Wall Street knows a gold mine when it sees one, and it likes what it saw in the Senate health care bill. Health insurance company stocks soared to an 18 month high the day the Democrats reached the magic 60 votes needed for passage of its overhaul bill.

For the better part of a year, Congressional Democrats have labored mightily, only to give birth to a mouse of a reform. After being truncated in the House, the public option is now gone for good, as is the possibility of Medicare eligibility for those below the age of 65. With those threats removed, private insurers will benefit mightily from a bill that delivers them 32 million new customers, with virtually no cost controls and no price competition.