Californias SB2: A stepping stone to health care reform

As attention is focused on the June 19 Bridges for Health Care events in California, prominently represented will be the campaign to save SB2 – the California Senate bill passed last fall and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis – which would require employers of 50 workers or more to provide health coverage.

A broad coalition of more than 100 labor, civic, consumer, health, education, faith-based and senior organizations – several of them big coalitions in their own right – is supporting the measure against a campaign by the Chamber of Commerce and giant retailers to overturn it through a ballot initiative in the Nov. 2 election. Some businesses and some insurers also support SB2.

A “yes” vote in November will uphold SB2; a “no” vote will kill it.

Even advocates of other health-care measures, such as Health Care for All (HCA), which focuses on another California Senate measure – the single payer bill SB921 introduced by Sen. Sheila Kuehl and now going through committee hearings – are firm backers of SB2 as a vital first step to the more far-reaching changes they seek.

SB2 “modestly addresses an increased government responsibility” for assuring health care to those who are currently working, alongside government’s present role in coverage for those who are not currently working, HCA Chairman Daniel Hodges told the PWW in a telephone interview. Hodges said a defeat of SB2 would be a major setback for all serious efforts to reform health care.

California Labor Federation spokesperson Nathan Ballard told the PWW the federation and its affiliated unions are launching “an aggressive campaign against the big business interests that want to kill SB2.”

Within the labor movement, Ballard said, a campaign of flier distributions and one-on-one discussions in workplaces will be accompanied by gathering of supporters’ signatures in preparation for pre-election get-out-the-vote work. A “Walk of Shame” during the federation’s April legislative conference called public attention to role of the Chamber of Commerce and several of the anti-SB2 corporations.

Because of SB2’s role as a first step in improving and expanding coverage, Ballard said, the corporations “are testing us to see if we’ll put up a fight.”

“Basically,” he added, “the big corporations that are too cheap to pay for health coverage are the ones trying to stop SB2.”

The measure would provide coverage for over 1 million of the 7 million Californians who now lack health coverage, and would bolster the security of currently insured workers who fear losing their coverage. It would help control health costs through cutting the numbers of uninsured people who must depend on overburdened public health resources. It would also limit the share of premiums paid by workers to 20 percent of the cost, or 5 percent of wages for low- and moderate-income workers. Polls have shown that 65 percent of voters now favor the measure.

Earlier this month the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the biggest individual corporate donor to the anti-SB2 campaign is (surprise!) McDonald’s and its franchises, which by the end of last month had given at least $663,000. Others include Macy’s West, Carl’s Junior, Darden Restaurants (owner of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster), Outback Steakhouse, Nordstrom’s, Target, Sears, Office Depot, Wendy’s International, Marriott International and In-N-Out Burgers.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.