CA State Senator Wants Workers To Have Insurance

February 14, 2003 ( - A California State Senate proposal would require that all California employers offer their workers health insurance or contribute to a fund that would cover the state's working poor.

State Senate leader John Burton proposed the plan he contends will dramatically expand coverage, ensure a healthier populace, and slash at the state’s bulging budget deficit.   Overall, Burton estimates his proposal could produce $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year in savings to the Medi-Cal health-care program for the poor and to the Healthy Families program for their children, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

But before the ink had dried on the announcement, the Burton plan drew opposition.   The most vocal opponent was the California Chamber of Commerce, a group representing 16,000 employers – two-thirds of which consider themselves small businesses. “We are not looking to drive people out of business, but we are looking to drive people into a health-care system,” said Burton about his measure, which is being backed by both organized labor and physicians.

And The Costs?

Burton, (D-San Francisco),  said he expects that many employers will join labor and the doctors in support of the bill, especially those who have paid higher premiums because other employers and competitors who did not offer health benefits were happy to accept the subsidy.  

The proposal would work like this:   employers would either pay the health-care premiums directly for about five million working poor and their dependents or make payments to a pooled fund from which insurance would be purchased. The specifics on the plan’s finances would be worked out with employers, with a possible mix having employers paying 80% of the costs and employees contributing 20%.

Richard Costigan, the chamber’s chief of governmental relations, said most of the organization’s major members already provide health benefits to their workers. But he warned that imposing a new state-mandated cost could be hazardous to his members’ economic health.   “There is not an unlimited pot of money,” Costigan told the Times. He said large and small businesses would have to either pay the new insurance costs or “lay people off, delay hiring, not expand the business or look at relocating out of state.”

Burton’s bill is actually the second such universal health-care proposal put forward in California. The Blue Shield of California plan is also based on having employers either provide coverage or contribute money to a central insurance pool (See Universal Healthcare in California Proposed ).