Business leaders lobby lawmakers 

With the legislative season warming up in the state capital, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce members journeyed to Sacramento this week to lobby for reform to the state’s health care system.

The cost of providing health care for employees has continued to rise for state businesses faster than inflation, in part because insurance users must pay for the care of the uninsured, making the issue a hot one. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put forward a proposal to control these costs, as have state Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, and state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. The proposals differ in who would be covered, what individuals and employers would be required to contribute to care and other aspects.

During their overnight visit Monday and Tuesday, the 26 members of the chamber delegation met with Schwarzenegger advisor Herb Schultz and Health and Human Services Associate Secretary Ruth Liu. They also heard spokespeople for Perata and for state Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, who has issued statements on health care opposing the governor and fellow legislators’ "universal" plans that would greatly increase the number of people covered.

"We haven’t taken a position on any of them. Part of the purpose of the trip was to understand the alternatives that are being discussed in Sacramento," Chamber Senior VP of Public Policy Jim Lazarus said. "It’s clear that something is going to happen this year. I think there is a recognition that there is a crisis that has to be dealt with."

Several members from the delegation said that they were encouraged by a perceived spirit of bipartisanship between the governor and Democratic legislators. Whatever proposal is adopted, they said it must contain costs into the future, so that health care expenses don’t exceed payroll growth.

San Francisco health care consultant Michael Alexander, a delegate on the trip, said costs can increase 8 to 15 percent or more annually for employers.

"[Employers] have gone to higher deductible plans to share the costs with employees," he said. "Some smaller employers have dropped health care coverage altogether."

Scott Hauge, a delegate and head of the nonprofit California Small Business, said his group has not yet taken a position, but he personally leans toward the governor’s proposal despite its requirement that small businesses contribute to employee care — provided, he said, that the governor can also deliver cost containment.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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