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Relief hangs in the balance

Ryan Carter

Legislation that would require small businesses to pay health

insurance could be put on hold if another bill to reform California’s

workers’ compensation system is not worked out by Friday, a local

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legislator said Tuesday.

With just three days left before the end of the Legislature’s

session, a six-member conference committee led by Assemblyman Dario

Frommer (D-Burbank) and state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton

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(D-San Francisco) is working on a bill that could require employers

with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance.

Frommer, chairman of the Assembly’s health committee, is pushing

for subsidies for small businesses with 20 to 49 employees in

exchange for providing health insurance.

But the committee’s progress has been slowed by another group of

lawmakers wrangling with reforming the state workers’ compensation

system, which some say is driving business out of the state because

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of skyrocketing premiums.

The workers’ compensation committee, which Frommer is not a part

of, has outlined the terms of a deal but has not reached an

agreement.

New health insurance legislation will depend on whether the

workers’ compensation committee can shave $5 billion to $6 billion in

costs. Treatment for the uninsured, Frommer said, cost the state $5.6

billion in 2001.

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“We have a huge crisis in the state with the uninsured,” he said,

adding that 21% of the population is not insured. “These people use

our emergency rooms and public clinics because they have nowhere else

to go.”

Locally, employers said they agree that workers should have health

insurance but that it shouldn’t be slapped onto the backs of the

state’s businesses.

Burbank Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Bowers said

rising workers’ compensation costs and tax increases are among the

biggest problems faced by small business.

“Given the current business environment, I believe what our

Legislature should be focusing on is [helping] businesses so they can

hire more people,” she said. “Instead, our Legislature seems to be

focused on areas that will further decrease profits.”


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