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Calif. Senate passes universal health bill, awaits governor's decision

On its last day in session, the California Senate passed the latest version of a bill that would guarantee healthcare for all state residents.

By a vote of 22-14, the Senate on August 31 passed the latest version of the bill, which included amendments from the state's assembly. The bill now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed the bill when it reached his desk two years ago.

Supporters of the bill, authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl, voiced optimism that Schwarzenegger would give it fresh consideration this time around. The governor had supported a healthcare reform measure earlier this year, but it was defeated by a committee in the Legislature.

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The Kuehl bill would set up a state-administered system to cover all residents and fund the program with federal, state and county monies already being spent on healthcare and by "affordable insurance premiums" that would replace all premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket payments and co-payments.

The bill would promise complete freedom for consumers to choose their healthcare providers, and its supporters say it would provide fair payments for all covered services they provide. Under the structure of the bill, there would be no more uncompensated care.

The bill estimates that by 2015, healthcare spending under the universal healthcare approach would be $68.9 billion less than currently expected.

Several groups have lined up to support the legislation, and they expressed optimism about its fate this year.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee hailed the Legislature's passage of a single-payer, expanded Medicare for all-style bill. The group called it a model for the national healthcare reform debate that could emerge next year.

"Our healthcare crisis today has become a clear and present danger to the health, safety and economic security of all Californians and all Americans. We need comprehensive reform that will genuinely fix this broken system and end this national nightmare, starting in California and then in Washington," said Malinda Markowitz, co-president of the CNA/NNOC, which  is the principal sponsor of the bill.