California universal health care bill falls short
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A California Senate committee voted on Monday to kill a closely watched bill that would have provided health-care insurance to millions of state residents at an estimated cost of more than $14 billion.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had joined with the state Assembly's Democratic speaker to advance the bill in that chamber, but lawmakers on the Democrat-led Senate's health committee voted 7-1 against the legislation amid concerns that it would cost the cash-strapped state's government more than estimated.
The bill has closely watched because of California's size and rising anxiety among voters in the presidential primary season over the cost and availability of health care.
Nearly 47 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, were without health insurance in 2005, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. Leading Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge changes are needed nationally, and some are advocating plans that would expand coverage.
The California legislation would have required all residents to have medical insurance, either through private providers or a subsidized state pool funded by taxes on cigarettes, hospitals and employers.
More than 5 million Californians would have been covered by the legislation, but Democratic and Republican senators alike said assumptions in the bill about funding for the state pool were faulty.
"It doesn't hold together," said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the Senate health committee's top Democrat.
Republican senators on the committee said California could not afford an experiment in universal medical insurance with the state facing a shortfall of more than $14 billion and with the state's economy expected to slow.
"This bill is based upon some fairy tale-like assumptions," said Republican Sen. Dave Cox.
The Senate committee could have held the bill for reconsideration but Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said that would not be necessary.
Schwarzenegger said in a statement he would not give up on efforts to provide medical insurance to his state's uninsured.
"One setback is just that -- a setback," he said. "I still believe comprehensive health care reform is needed in California. We will keep moving forward. I can promise you that."
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)