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Gov. loses backing of healthcare groups

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Times Staff Writer

Major health groups that had backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s effort to extend medical coverage to all Californians have turned against him, saying his proposed budget cuts would swell the number of uninsured people by 1 million by the end of his term.

The groups plan rallies and media events over the next two months throughout the state, many highlighting interim cuts.

The coalition includes Catholic Healthcare West, the state’s largest private hospital chain; the Service Employees International Union; the consumer advocacy groups AARP and Health Access California; and insurers Kaiser Permanente and Health Net. Those groups last year pressed lawmakers to approve a $15-billion insurance expansion plan favored by the governor, but it died in a state Senate committee in January.

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The California Medical Assn., which represents doctors and never backed Schwarzenegger’s effort, has also joined the coalition, which aims to persuade voters and legislators that state healthcare cuts for the poor will raise the cost of medical coverage for everyone and lead to more hospital closures.

“Your insurance premiums and my insurance premiums will increase,” said Wade Rose, a vice president of Catholic Healthcare West.

On its own, the California Hospital Assn. on Tuesday launched a television and newspaper advertising campaign against Schwarzenegger’s budget, which would reduce MediCal spending by more than $1.1 billion in the fiscal year that begins next month.

Health Access released a report Wednesday estimating that Schwarzenegger’s proposed restrictions on public health programs would push the state’s ranks of uninsured to 7.5 million people over the next three years. In Los Angeles County alone, the report said, nearly 238,000 children and 170,000 low-income working adults would be denied state-paid healthcare.

The report said previous estimates have underestimated the severity of the cuts by focusing only on the first year, while the changes the governor wants to implement -- including tightening eligibility thresholds and establishing new bureaucratic hurdles -- would cascade into much larger reductions in the following years.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, on Wednesday disparaged Schwarzenegger for proposing cuts at the same time as he has been calling healthcare “a moral crisis.”

“It’s outrageous that he’s calling the number of uninsured a moral crisis while proposing a budget that only increases the number of uninsured,” Wright said in a conference call with reporters.

Lisa Page, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, said: “The governor’s proposed budget reflects a difficult budget year, a $17-billion budget hole and the severity of our broken budget system. This is a governor who is dedicated to comprehensive healthcare reform that will ensure access to affordable, quality healthcare coverage for all Californians.”

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jordan.rau@latimes.com


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