Harman enters health-coverage fray


With an estimated 6.5 million Californians with inadequate health insurance or none at all, the debate over how to handle a coming health care crisis is intensifying.

Newport-Mesa state Sen. Tom Harman has gone on the offensive in recent weeks, penning editorials that rip filmmaker Michael Moore and the Massachusetts health-care plan that requires everyone to buy insurance coverage.

Now some groups are firing back, while others are trying to win Harman over.

It may be a tough sell. Harman, a Republican, said he won’t support plans for universal, governmentadministered coverage.

“In my opinion — shared by many, many others — it has not worked wherever it’s been tried,” he said. “It has not worked in Canada, it has not worked in Massachusetts…. It’s just a mess. You don’t get quality care; you have to wait in line weeks and sometimes months [for treatment].”

Some plans being floated, including one from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would help pay for expanded coverage through business payroll taxes. Harman said that won’t work because courts have decided such funding methods are preempted by federal law.

And finally, Harman argues, state agencies like Caltrans and the franchise tax board don’t handle their duties very well, so the prospect of the state efficiently administering health care for 37 million people is grim.

But not everyone agrees other experiments showed the dismal results Harman claims. The head of the Massachusetts agency that manages the bulk of that state’s new program said Harman’s criticisms are off-base.

Prior to insurance reform, there were an estimated 400,000 uninsured people in Massachusetts, and “we think we’ve eaten into a substantial chunk…. That we know of, we’ve already enrolled 155,000 newly insured,” Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, said.

The price of insurance has fallen dramatically, and benefits have increased because of the state’s reforms, Kingsdale said.

Although they still have a long way to go, he said, “It’s working exactly as it’s supposed to.”

Here in Orange County, one grassroots voter group is asking for something far from the Massachusetts plan. “Health Care For All — California” has been lobbying city councils and Harman to support Senate Bill 840, a universal-care bill that would eliminate private insurance and charge residents a health-care tax in proportion to their income.

The bill, which the governor has said he’ll veto, would reduce the cost of administering health care and devote the money from that overhead to getting more people covered, said Joe Tyndall, a Costa Mesa resident with Health Care For All.

His group wants to bring Harman to a town hall meeting to discuss health-care issues. Under free-market solutions Republicans like Harman advocate, Tyndall said, people may hold down two or three jobs and still not be able to afford health care.

Harman agreed there are problems with the current system — for example, more people should have access to health care. He’s promoting the GOP state legislators’ plan, which would offer high-deductible insurance policies to protect people from catastrophic illness and injury, the ability to create health savings accounts, and more funding for community clinics to offer preventive care and divert people from emergency rooms.

The number of uninsured could be made more manageable, Harman said, by mandating people who can afford insurance to get it — much like Massachusetts is doing — and cutting off care to illegal immigrants.

“Literally everyone from Mexico is going to start coming here to get free medical care. That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

It sounds painful, but illegal immigrants should be turned away from medical services, he said.

“It’s a troubling issue, but I don’t see any other solution, and frankly most of my constituents feel that way about this issue,” Harman said.

With health threats like smoking and obesity costing millions, Harman and other legislators will have to confront one fundamental issue: While buying insurance can be required, getting people to behave healthily is hard to legislate.

“Part of it just goes to personal responsibility for your healthcare, and we have to have people start taking care of themselves,” Harman said.

  • ALICIA ROBINSON may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or at
  • Advertisement