Last week (January 15-17), I journeyed to Sacramento, California to share my experiences as an uninsured Bay State resident who will be penalized under the provisions of Chapter 58. My trip was sponsored by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California watchdog group opposing ABX 1 1; the Golden State version of the Massachusetts plan championed by Governor Schwarzenegger and Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Initially, I was scheduled to testify before the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Sheila Kuehl. However, the hearing was rescheduled until January 23 in order to allow for a thorough fiscal analysis of the plan.
The afternoon of Tuesday the 15th was spent making the rounds of various senate offices where I presented administrative staffers with my take on the Massachusetts “reform” effort. On Wednesday the 16th, I participated in a news conference convened by Jerry Flanagan and Carmen Balber of FTCR. The purpose of the session was to unveil a survey that showed scant support for an individual mandate among Californians, and to allow me to expose some of the many flaws in the Massachusetts scheme. We had planned to address the media in the Capitol Rotunda, but the fact that I had traveled 3,000 to deliver a negative appraisal of the Massachusetts law so incensed Speaker Nunez that he called the California Highway Patrol, which provides security for the capitol building to have us ejected!
To their credit, the CHP officers were polite and professional in the execution of their duties, but the verdict was that we would have to speak on the steps outside the capitol or face misdemeanor prosecution. So much for the Speaker’s tolerance of opposing viewpoints!
The problem of health care access is far worse in the Golden State than it is here. It is estimated that up 7 million Californians are uninsured. The cost of extending coverage to these individuals is estimated to be somewhere around $14 billion (this figure represents almost 40% of the entire Massachusetts state budget). An “individual mandate” to obtain health insurance is a centerpiece of ABX 1 1. My message to the people of California was that Chapter 58 is a pig in lipstick; and a pig in lipstick is still a pig. The Massachusetts scheme is unnecessarily punitive, prohibitively costly, likely unsustainable and far short of universal. It weighs disproportionately on the middle class, and support for the individual mandate among those who are actually impacted by it is nonexistent. Caveat emptor!
Ron Norton is an adjunct professor of radiology and an administrator
at a Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester
This program aired on January 20, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.