Schwarzenegger backs health overhaul
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged California’s full support Thursday for national health care reform, throwing the weight of one of the nation’s most prominent Republicans behind an overhaul that has caused a deep political divide in the U.S.
Schwarzenegger said he has long supported the concept of universal health coverage, and in 2007 proposed a $14.7 billion overhaul of the health care market in California.
That effort failed in part because of concerns over cost, but the governor credits the effort with helping lay the groundwork for the federal bill signed this year.
Health care reform has been a primary goal of the nation’s Democratic president, Barack Obama. Congressional Republicans voted unanimously against the administration-backed reform bill that recently was enacted.
Schwarzenegger said it’s time to set politics aside and start implementing the new law, even as many cash-strapped states worry the costs of the overhaul will widen their budget shortfalls.
“The plan is not without flaws,” Schwarzenegger said in remarks prepared for a speech he will gave later in the day that were obtained in advance by The Associated Press. “But it is the law. And it is time for California to move ahead with it. Thoughtfully. And responsibly.”
The Republican Governors Association said it believed Schwarzenegger was the first Republican governor to come out strongly in favor of the health care reform law.
Schwarzenegger’s comments marked a change in tone from earlier this year. After the U.S. Senate had passed its own version of the health care bill, which has since been revised, Schwarzenegger was among many critics who lambasted a provision that gave Nebraska additional Medicaid money.
The move was widely seen as a way to secure the vote of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. At the time, Schwarzenegger called the bill “a rip-off.”
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor still has concerns about the potential costs to California of implementing the plan and how the state will administer it. California already faces a $20 billion deficit over the next 14 months.
Schwarzenegger, however, feels those concerns can be worked out, McLear said.
“The bottom line is this: If national health care reform is going to succeed, it is up to the states to make it happen,” Schwarzenegger said in his remarks.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said she welcomed Schwarzenegger’s support and his “dedication to strengthening the health care system.”
She said the Obama administration has made progress in protecting consumers and lowering costs since the president signed the bill.
“This is a very state-friendly law and our administration has worked closely with governors to both pass and begin implementation of it,” Sebelius said in a statement.
Schwarzenegger’s move could have broad consequences for the state and for the success of the national reform effort. The nation’s most populous state also has the highest number of uninsured residents in the country, roughly 8.2 million, a number that has swelled by 1.8 million during the past two years because so many Californians have lost employer-based health insurance during the recession.
Schwarzenegger said that reality is placing an enormous strain on uninsured families and on the state economy. Deep state budget cuts in recent years also have left tens of thousands of poor, vulnerable residents with severely reduced coverage.
Schwarzenegger said California would take several immediate steps to begin implementing the federal plan, including the formation of a health care reform task force.
The governor alluded to the political divisions that arose during the national health care debate and caused some attorneys general across the country – most of them Republicans – to challenge the federal overhaul in court. Most of the legal arguments involve whether the government can require people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Schwarzenegger said the government does have such a right because society already is paying a high price for the uninsured. Those who don’t have health insurance, he said, in effect force others to pay for their medical care when they are injured or become ill.
“Now, many people have asked, ‘How can you be a Republican governor but in support of health care reform?'” Schwarzenegger said. “The answer is that this is not a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are Republican or Democrat. Rich or poor. Young or old. We all need quality health care.”
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