Countywide : Insurance Initiative Campaign Begun

The California Medical Assn. on Friday kicked off a signature drive to qualify its health insurance initiative for the November ballot.

Named the "Affordable Basic Care" initiative, the plan would require all employers to provide basic health care to employees working more than 17.5 hours a week, as well as their dependents. It includes a basic benefits package that would limit hospital stays to 45 days and doctor visits to 20 a year.

"This plan provides insurance for the working uninsured, who are 75% of those uninsured," said Dr. Richard Corlin, president-elect of the CMA, which is holding its annual convention at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Corlin noted that 6 million Californians lack medical insurance.

But shortly after the first signatures were collected, a coalition of groups opposed to the initiative gathered outside the hotel to protest.

"Their initiative is just a last-ditch effort to kill real proposals to make health care affordable," said Maryann O'Sullivan, executive director of the San Francisco-based coalition, Health Access.

Groups represented at the protest were Voter Revolt, the American Assn. of Retired Persons, ACT UP, People for a National Health Program, the Long Beach Health Coalition and Physicians for a National Health Program.

They support a bill by state Sen. Nicholas C. Petris, (D-Oakland), which would establish a public health-care system modeled after the Canadian system.

The ABC initiative seeks to contain costs in the medical field by establishing a panel that would review exceptionally large bills, but critics argued that the group would play only an advisory role and serve the doctors' interests.

Joy Howell of the Consumer Health Insurance Coalition, a group of business, insurance and consumer organizations united to fight the CMA initiative, was quick to make clear that her group did not support the Petris bill.

"Health Access is to the left, and we're a middle-of-the-road, business-and-industry group," Howell said. "It's an unusual marriage. We want to give insurance to our employees, but (the CMA initiative) is not the way to do it."

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