As the nation elected Barack Obama president, voters in various states used their ballots to spread some wealth for hospital construction and childrens health insurance in spite of the bleak economic outlook. They also supported measures that legalize medical marijuana, physician-assisted suicide and embryonic stem-cell research, repudiating fiercely held stands of the outgoing Bush administration.
California voters approved Proposition 3, a bond measure raising $980 million to fund construction, expansion and remodeling of eight not-for-profit hospitals and another five under the University of California system. The bond proceeds represent between 10% and 25% of total capital investment for the eligible hospitalsthe remainder will come from operating margins, philanthropy and borrowing.
California will finance the 30-year bonds from its general fund; actor Jamie Lee Curtis said in a promo for the measure that it doesnt raise taxes; it saves lives. Still, the generosity of 55% of the states voters came at a time their government faces an $11.2 billion budget deficit.
In Texas, meanwhile, Dallas County voters overwhelmingly agreed to shoulder a property-tax increase for a bond issue contributing $747 million toward a $1.3 billion, 862-bed replacement facility for Parkland Memorial Hospital. The measure passed with more than 80% of the votes. Ballot measures in Northern California won overwhelming support to raise property taxes to issue bonds paying for seismically sound replacement hospitals for 521-bed San Francisco General Hospital ($887.4 million) and 574-bed Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose ($840 million).
State ballot measures produced a split decision on support for taxpayer-funded health insurance. A law passed via voter initiative in Montana channels revenue from an existing tax on insurance premiums into expanded eligibility for the State Childrens Health Insurance Program and premium subsidies that help families add children to their employer-sponsored health plans. Supporters, including the MHA-An Association of Montana Health Care Providers and the Montana Medical Association, said the plan would cover 30,000 uninsured children.
The mood was different in Maine, where voters killed a beverage tax recently enacted to provide stable funding for a state program that subsidizes health insurance for small businesses. And in Arizona, a constitutional amendment that would prohibit any law that restricts a persons choice of private healthcare systems or private plans of any type, according to the ballot language, was still too close to call at deadline. The proposal specifically bars any system like the one in Massachusetts that imposes fines on residents who decline to buy insurance.
Elsewhere, voters approved healthcare measures that plunge into social, moral and religious thickets. Washington state became the second state in the nation to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients, as 59% of voters approved the death with dignity initiative.
The ballot measure, modeled after an Oregon law, allows patients who are legal residents of Washington state and have a diagnosis of six months or less to live to obtain and self-administer lethal medication to end their own lives. Two physicians must diagnose the patient and determine the patient is competent. The measure also requires a waiting period and physician verification of an informed patient decision. Physicians who prescribe the medication cant be prosecuted for their good-faith actions and healthcare facilities can decline to participate. The American Medical Association and Catholic Health Association opposed the measure.
The University of Michigan and its Center for Stem Cell Biology welcomed passage of a ballot proposal amending the states Constitution to allow stem-cell research using discarded embryos created for fertility treatment. The successful initiative, approved with about 53% of the vote, loosens what researchers complained was one of the countrys most restrictive laws on such inquiry.