- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

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 the overhaul.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said he long has supported the concept of universal health coverage, and in 2007 he proposed a $14.7 billion overhaul of the health care market in California.

That effort failed in part because of concerns about cost, but the governor credits the effort with helping lay the groundwork for the federal bill signed this year.

Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”

His comments marked a change in tone from earlier this year. After the U.S. Senate passed its own version of the health care bill, which since has been revised, Mr. 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 Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat. At the time, Mr. 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.

But Mr. Schwarzenegger feels those concerns can be worked out, Mr. 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,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in his remarks.

Mr. 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.

Deep state budget cuts in recent years have left tens of thousands of poor, vulnerable residents with severely reduced coverage.

Mr. 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 steps also include contracting with the federal government to operate a new high-risk pool for people who have been refused coverage, and developing a purchasing pool so that small businesses and individuals can shop for health insurance at competitive rates.

In addition, state agencies will begin enforcing some of the cornerstones of the federal law, such as removing lifetime dollar limits on health insurance payouts, allowing children to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to children and banning retroactive policy cancellations.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also said his administration will work with the federal government to contain costs and control possible financial damage to the state’s deficit-ridden budget. California faces a $20 billion shortfall over the next 14 months and already has had to reduce health coverage for tens of thousands of people.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said he supports the federally required actions, which he called a necessary initial step that will be fully funded by the federal government. He intends to convene a special session of the Legislature if legislative action is necessary.

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.

“Now, many people have asked, ‘How can you be a Republican governor but in support of health care reform?’” Mr. 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.”

He said people who do not have insurance are a burden on those who do and on taxpayers.

“We all pay the price for those Californians who don’t have coverage and don’t stay healthy,” he said.

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