The United States is widely acknowledged to have one of the best medical care systems in the world. But many Americans cannot afford it. The U.S. Census Bureau says that some 46 million people do not have either the money, or the health insurance to pay for a doctor or life-saving drugs. Now California may become one of a few states to offer universal health care.
California health officials say one fifth of the state's residents have no access to adequate health care. This is due to skyrocketing medical costs and the high cost of health insurance.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger summed up the problem this way: "California has, as we all know, the best care with the best medical technology in the entire world. But the problem is the delivery."
Many people who cannot afford health care in California have jobs. The same is true in other states. The federal government's own researchers recently conducted a study showing more and more Americans -- including those in the middle class -- are unable to afford health care coverage.
Take Cliff Whalen, a single father with a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter. He makes about $25,000 a year. "I'm not asking for health insurance for free, I'm asking for something I can afford."
Whalen lives in Massachusetts, one of the few states implementing universal health care coverage. He soon will be able to buy health insurance at a reduced rate. California's plan is similar to the one in Massachusetts. What Governor Schwarzenegger is trying to do reflects a trend among the states. Jim Frogue, with the Center for Health Transformation, says about the states’ efforts, "I'd say just about all 50 of them are wrestling with serious health care reform."
The California governor's plan would spread the cost among individuals, businesses, insurers, government and health care providers. Everyone in California, including illegal immigrants, would get medical care.
The plan has its critics, including some small business owners. "Something like this job tax would really, really hurt my business,” said one owner. “In fact, I would literally, I would probably close my doors."
But Schwarzenegger says spreading around the costs would actually lower them.
"Everyone is left with a better deal here. That is the way it is. Even though everyone has to chip in, everyone is left with a better deal," said the governor.
Dr. Arthur Garson, Dean of the University of Virginia Medical School, has helped write proposed legislation now in the U.S. Congress to reform health care. "What this bill would do would be to allow states to subsidize people through small business, and pay some of the premiums, and to improve public systems such as Medicaid. There is no other country that has allowed 46 or 47 million people to be uninsured."
The California legislature still has to approve Governor Schwarzenegger's plan before it can take effect.
And Dr. Garson says he expects more states to come up with plans of their own. Over the next several years, he says, the best systems will surface. And those systems may become the model for a federal health care plan.