California State Senate Passes Nunez-Perata Health Care Bill: Assembly Debating AB 8 Now for Final Passage
Senate President pro Tem Don Perata presenting AB 8 on the Senate floor
By Frank D. Russo
This afternoon the California State Senate passed AB 8 (Nunez-Perata) on a 22 to 17 vote with only Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed. Democratic Senator Sheil Kuehl, the author of SB 840, a single payor plan, and Senator Lou Correa voted against the bill. Senator Joe Simitian did not vote. The bill now heads to the Assembly, which we have just been advised will be debating it shortly.
The debate on the bill was a little more bizarre than most. It took place against the backdrop that there is almost a virtual certainty that Governor Schwarzenegger will veto the bill and then call the legislature back for a special session on health. Senator Perata in presenting the bill acknowledged that the seven week impasse on the state budget had a big impact on failure to negotiate a last minute deal that the Governor could commit to in advance to sign. He said if there was a special session, it will be incumbent on the Governor to provide us with his legislation—a not so gentle reminder that the Governor has never had a bill proposal introduced in this, the “year of health care” that he proclaimed.
Republican Senator Sam Aanestad quoted from the California Nurses Association and their reasons for opposing AB 8 and any approach that retains insurance as part of the plan. When Sheila Kuehl, the author of SB 840—a single payor plan that eliminates insurance companies from the equation—rose to speak, she could only begin her remarks saying “I’m still getting used to Senator Aanestad quoting the California Nurses Association.” There is not a single Republican in the legislature that has voted –this year or last for SB 840 and there is no question but that they will not vote for any single payor plan or one favored by the nurses.
Aanestad also got his facts wrong on a number of facts about the bill. At one point he said there was not a single organization in support of the bill without amendments. The he qualified his statement that no major medical organization was in support. He later said that no unions were in support unless the bill was amended.
However, as we pointed out earlier, there were 25 or so individuals representing a diverse array of unions, health organizations, and other groups in support of AB 8 who appeared this morning at a press conference to voice their feelings. None of them qualified their remarks with anything about amendments. These groups included Health Access California, an umbrella organization with over 200 different organizations part of their coalition. They also included the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the California Labor Federation which represents over 2 million workers in the state. Other unions, AFSCME and SEIU were represented and in support.
Senator Runner who followed Aanestad in speaking called the bill “political theater,” but I don’t think he was commenting on the Aanestad having clothed himself in citing the real (CNA) and imagined (unions that support it, but that he said wanted it amended) opponents.
We will report more fully on the Senate debate later after today’s session is over.
Senator Kuehl’s statement in opposing AB 8 was generous in her praise for those who had worked on the bill and their improvements to it. But in the end, she told the Senate that she had learned of the problems caused by any approach that retains insurance. She said that, “For those of you who vote for the bill, I understand you are voting your hopes, knowing it will be vetoed by the Governor.”
Using the analogy of the Titanic for the current health care system, she said she had criticized some measures as rearranging the deck chairs, but that there has been a real attempt in AB 8 to “turn the direction of the ship.” But she said the Titanic was sunk because the ship had tried to turn rather than “facing the iceberg head on” which would have at least kept it afloat longer and saved more lives. I have no idea of the facts about the Titanic, but she made her point.
Democratic Senator Darrell Steinberg, after hearing critics of the bill, said “Let’s be honest—it is the only majority vote option available.”