With the Legislature having reconvened this week for its final month
of work, members would do well to put aside the political carnival
swirling around the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, and focus instead on
critical issues important to California voters.
Voters are clearly in a mood of frustration and expect the
Legislature to work hard resolving our workers’ compensation crisis,
expanding health insurance coverage, protecting consumer privacy and
providing some relief on the vehicle-license fee increase.
First and foremost, the Legislature must craft a set of workers’
compensation reforms that stem the skyrocketing premium increases
that are bleeding businesses, nonprofits and local governments alike
throughout the state. California employers pay more for workers’
compensation coverage than employers in any other state, yet injured
employees received some of the lowest benefits in the nation.
That’s simply not acceptable. We need meaningful reforms to
improve the efficiency of this system, ensuring that workers are
properly treated for their injuries and that employers aren’t gouged
for insuring their employees.
Second, the Legislature needs to create a framework for turning
around the growing trend of California workers without health
insurance. Health care costs, like workers’ compensation costs, are
going through the roof, forcing all of us to foot the bill. There are
more than 6.5 million Californians -- 21% of our population -- who do
not have health insurance, a statistic that has been rising steadily
with the soft economy.
When uninsured Californians get sick, they often use emergency
rooms as their primary-care facilities, putting off doctor visits
until their conditions become much more serious. That type of
treatment is far more expensive for the hospitals and far more
dangerous for the patients. When hospitals aren’t paid for treating
those patients who have no health insurance, they simply turn around
and pass along the costs to health insurers, who pass the costs along
to employers, who ultimately pass it along to you and me. California
taxpayers pay nearly $6 billion a year for uncompensated care. Thus,
businesses that provide health insurance are subsidizing their
competitors who do not.
A legislative conference committee headed by Sen. John Burton
(D-San Francisco) and I is considering legislation to expand
on-the-job health-care coverage and use federal health-care dollars
to assist businesses that provide health care to low-wage workers.
It is also time for this Legislature to pass a law that protects
the thousands of patients who are abruptly forced to change
physicians due to contract disputes between their HMOs and doctors.
It is unfair to force a cancer patient, a child with a chronic
illness or an expectant mother to leave a trusted physician suddenly
because their HMO has terminated its contract.
My Assembly Bill 1286 will protect patients from becoming pawns
during fights between their doctors and health plans. Gov. Davis says
signing this bill is one of his top priorities, and I hope the
Legislature will put the measure on his desk.
The Legislature also needs to reach consensus and pass legislation
to prohibit financial institutions from sharing or selling our
private financial information without our consent. The widespread
sharing and sale of personal financial information has helped fuel
the spread of identity theft, is the source of countless unsolicited
telemarketing calls and has subjected many seniors to predatory
Legislation to protect consumers’ privacy has been bottled up for
three years. It’s time for the Legislature to move and pass SB 1 by
Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco).
Finally, I would like to see the Legislature find a way to halt
the steep increase in vehicle-license fees. While California
desperately needs the $4 billion in revenue that the VLF nets, it is
unfair to penalize working families and small business with the VLF
increase, while the wealthy are receiving major tax cuts.
Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg and I are working on a proposal to
halt the VLF increase, while raising the necessary revenues in a
manner that will not hurt middle-class families and small business.
It is my hope that Democrats and Republicans can come together and
agree that there are fairer ways to raise those revenues than by
balancing the budget on the backs of working Californians.
* ASSEMBLYMAN DARIO FROMMER represents the 43rd District, which
includes Burbank. He can be reached via his Web site at https://dem
ocrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a43/ or call his Glendale district
office at 240-6330.