Gov. gives firms his prescription for healthcare

Times Staff Writer

As a crutches-wielding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Los Angeles business leaders Friday to drum up support for his $12-billion healthcare reform package, it was clear that they appreciated his efforts.

How they felt about his plan wasn’t so clear.

Most of the 15 executives gathered at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce near downtown were quick to compliment the governor and his efforts to remold the state’s healthcare system. He’s bold, some said. He’s showing unprecedented leadership on the issue, others added.

Their assessment of the policy itself was a little more guarded. Chamber Chairman David Fleming called Schwarzenegger’s plan “a work in progress.”


But “this governor has to be commended for tackling this important issue,” Fleming, an attorney at Latham & Watkins, said after meeting with the governor behind closed doors.

Support from businesses, which fund the bulk of the state’s healthcare bill through employee benefits, is crucial for the success of Schwarzenegger’s proposal. The plan would make health insurance mandatory for residents and impose levies on employers with 10 or more workers, requiring them to spend at least 4% of their payroll on health insurance for workers or contribute that amount to a state insurance fund.

The plan would also tax doctors and hospitals and expand public programs to extend health coverage to the state’s estimated 6.5 million uninsured residents.

Since Schwarzenegger unveiled the plan last week, reactions have been mixed among business owners, with some small firms worried that it might be too costly. Others said it was a good start but they were waiting for more details.

This week, Schwarzenegger -- still hobbling after a ski injury -- began what he said would be a series of meetings with business leaders, consumer groups, labor unions and the healthcare industry to hammer out those details. He calls his proposal a blueprint and says he expects changes if an actual plan is passed by the Legislature this year.

Schwarzenegger likened his healthcare proposal to workers’ compensation reform he introduced three years ago in response to business demands. The governor said he wanted to decrease the burden of health costs on businesses by expanding the pool of insured people.

Currently, the uninsured are often treated in hospital emergency rooms, which can’t turn patients away under federal law. The cost is spread across the healthcare system and among those who pay for insurance.

“We want to change the mentality of people” so that they see health insurance as a necessity, Schwarzenegger said. “If you don’t have it, someone else has to pay the bill.”

Fleming said businesses welcomed the concept but the details still needed to be worked out. He said some companies were “thrilled about the 4%" of payroll for health insurance proposal because they currently paid more than that, but others were concerned that the governor’s plan might not contain skyrocketing healthcare costs in the long run.

Fleming announced that the Los Angeles chamber would create a task force to examine the governor’s plan.

“We have to work this out business by business,” he said.