There were moments during the long national debate on health health reform when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was critical of the legislation being considered in Washington. That has now changed, and it's a politically significant shift.
The Republican governor of the largest state in the Union came out forcefully yesterday in favor of marshaling all state resources to quickly and effectively implement federal reform, starting with the high risk pool next month. He promised to call a special session of the legislature if necessary to pass enabling legislation as the state and the country move ahead with health reform implementation.
For those of us in attendance, it was 2007 all over again: here was the governor talking about his positive experience with universal health care in Austria and making a compelling case that health care reform is neither a Democratic or a Republican issue. "I am a public servant, not a party servant," he said, when asked whether his decision not to join some fellow Republican governors in filing lawsuits to block national reform could drive a wedge between him and the rest of the Republican party.
He also responded directly to the new concerns that many Republicans are now expressing about the individual mandate. Gov. Schwarzenegger explained that when people do not have insurance, they are actaully forcing others to pay for their health care when they go to the hospital. Better, he suggested, for people to be required to have insurance so that they do not shift the costs and make the rest of society subsidize them.
The governor was joined by Kim Belshe, the Secretary of the California Department of Health and Human Services and the person the governor has designated to quarterback the state's implementation effort. Sec. Belshe provided a great deal of information in response to questions about, in particular, the implementation of the state's new high risk pool. She explained that the pools are the main topic of conversation in the weekly calls with the staff of the federal Department of Health and Human Services and explained how California's new pool will exist alongside its current pool.
Secretary Belshe will be speaking in greater detail about reform implementation, specifically about how to get Californians a better bang for their healthcare buck at an event that we are hosting in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 5th. For more information about this event and to RSVP, click here.