California's 6.6 million uninsured residents could receive basic healthcare coverage if the state's total healthcare spending was upped by $7.8 billion, according to a study released by Blue Shield of California, San Francisco. The study, done by an Emory University professor, evaluated the cost of implementing a universal healthcare plan proposed by Blue Shield Chairman and CEO Bruce Bodaken in December 2002. According to the analysis, the state government would pay an additional $4.5 billion - which could be raised through a 1% sales tax increase or a 0.7% income tax increase. Businesses and individuals would pay an additional $3.2 billion and an additional $63 million, respectively. Employers currently providing healthcare coverage, however, actually would save a total of $1.3 billion under the plan, because they would no longer pay a "hidden tax" to cover costs of caring for the underinsured, Bodaken said. Individuals who pay all or part of their insurance today would save more than $800 million, he said.
Bodaken's plan, backed by both the California Healthcare Association and the California Medical Association, would require all but the smallest employers to provide basic benefits to their workers or pay into a pool that would fund coverage. Outreach strategies would be developed to enroll every eligible resident in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Residents who remain uninsured would be required to buy private insurance, with state subsidies for those who could not afford the full cost. Blue Shield next month plans to release recommendations on which benefits should be part of the basic package. -- by Laura B. Benko