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November 24, 2008

Sudden health-care changes unlikely in California

Given all Barack Obama said about change during the presidential race, he might be expected to quickly revamp America's health-care system, which virtually everyone calls a mess.

Local people who have pushed for health-care reform say, however, they don't expect major changes in a hurry. But they do foresee the new president attending to the issue.

Tatiana Fassieux, manager of the Chico-based Health Improvement Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), which advises Medicare beneficiaries on their California health care coverage, recalled attending a conference last year where the next president spoke.

"Obama did talk about the benefits of a single-payer system," she said. However, with the nation's economic problems taking center stage, "I don't see any changes happening immediately," she added.

In a single-payer system, competition among insurance companies is eliminated, and one agency is put in charge of administering health coverage and paying providers.

For years, a local group, the Butte County Healthcare Coalition, has promoted a single-payer system for California and the nation. Several of its members told the Enterprise-Record they expect incremental changes from Obama. That doesn't thrill them because they believe single payer is the only real fix for what ails America's health-care system.

"We do think President Obama will do more than has been done so far," said Jeanne Ertle of Chico. She is a member of the local coalition and also vice-chairwoman of a statewide group, Health Care for All — California, which promotes single payer.

The term "universal health care" can have different meanings, she said. To some people, it just means everyone has health insurance of some sort. What it should mean, she said, is that everyone has access to the care they need. She's convinced single-payer is the only way to achieve that, she said.

Norma Wilcox, treasurer of the local coalition, said she's read Obama's health-care plan, which she described as "cautious." He proposed requiring parents to buy health care coverage for their children and said he hoped to cover two-thirds of those who now have no insurance.

"I think he's open to input and is testing the waters," Wilcox said.

Congressman Wally Herger, R-Chico, said in a phone interview from Washington that single payer has gotten lots of discussion in the House but that no plan has materialized.

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Posted by healthinsurance at November 24, 2008 11:49 AM