Responding to growing public concern about the cost and accessibility of healthcare, Blue Shield of California Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Bodaken has called for California to adopt a universal healthcare plan that would provide every state resident with basic coverage through both public and private health insurers.
"California has long been a trendsetter for the rest of the country-from food, music and movies to environmental safety and technological innovation," Bodaken said last week during a speech in San Francisco. "Now is the time for us to lead the rest of the country toward achieving universal coverage. It is a daunting challenge, but we can't wait."
The plan comes one month after a universal healthcare ballot measure in Oregon was trounced by 79% to 21% (Nov. 11, p. 8). Employers, insurers and providers lobbied hard against that initiative, arguing it would have led to runaway spending and killed the state's insurance industry.
Under Bodaken's plan, which observers deem far more conservative, all but the smallest employers would be required to offer their workers a package of "essential" health benefits, including coverage for hospital and physician services, prescription drugs and preventive care. The plan would create savings by expanding access to preventive care, reducing use of emergency rooms and providing a more secure financing system for doctors, hospitals and insurers, Bodaken said.
How the system would be financed remains to be seen, but the most "politically palatable" alternative likely would be a broad-based tax, Bodaken said.
Providers responded positively to Blue Shield's plan. "We find Mr. Bodaken's proposal very intriguing," said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Healthcare Association, which represents the state's hospitals. Bodaken acknowledged that his proposal would pose new financial challenges for his company and the state's health insurance industry, mainly because it would prohibit health plans from declining coverage to individuals with health problems, yet he contended that "bold action" is desperately needed.
California has 6.3 million uninsured residents and faces a massive budget shortfall that has forced the closure of several healthcare facilities. "With healthcare at the crossroads, it's the right thing to do and the right time to do it," Bodaken said.