Daily Archives: December 12, 2007

State Assembly Passes $14B Healthcare Reform Bill

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

THE State Assembly in Sacramento passed the first phase of a $14.4 billion plan to provide medical insurance to almost every Californian on Monday. The achievement gave Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Democratic allies their first victory in overhauling California’s healthcare system, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.

The measure, covering an estimated 3.6 million Californians, including 800,000 children, was negotiated by Schwarzenegger and Assembly Fabian Nunez–(D-Los Angeles. It would require almost every California resident to have insurance starting in 2010 with provision on subsidies and tax credits for those who would have trouble paying their share of the premiums.

Having passed along party line (45 to 31 votes), the measure was seen as an important step not only for California but for the Democrats who are crafting a similar measure for the entire country.

While the Governor and his Democratic allies in the Assembly are celebrating their victory, the State Senate is more skeptical about the measure’s survival. If it was passed by the Senate, the bill would still have to muster  significant support when it undergoes a State-wide plebiscite in November 2008. Senate Democratic leaders are questioning the wisdom of funding a measure at a time when California is staring at a projected $14 Billion budget shortfall in 2008.

“California has taken a giant step forward today on something that many people thought could not be done,” Gov. Schwarzenegger said. “With the Assembly’s courageous vote…we are closer than ever to fixing our broken healthcare system.”

Speaker Nunez said it was no surprise the plan had been so hard to forge.

“Otherwise, in the last 90 years you would have seen a successful attempt at fundamentally reforming our broken healthcare system not only here in California but around the country,” Nunez said.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), co-sponsor of the measure, who did not attend a victorious press conference called by Schwarzenegger and Nunez, issued a low-key statement praising progress. He added that he would ask the Legislature’s fiscal experts to determine whether the plan would contribute in further draining the State coffers.

To avoid a two-thirds vote required to pass the bill in the House—and would have required the support of the Republicans–Nunez had left out the measure’s financing details. The initiative would ask voters in November 2008 to approve taxes, thus: $2.6 billion on employers that don’t provide healthcare, $1.5 billion on tobacco users and $2.3 billion on hospitals.

A well-organized opposition is reportedly being organized by business groups and Blue Cross of California, the State’s largest insurer. Tobacco and drug companies are also said to join the fray, armed with their substantial financial clout. The California Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for repeal of a major healthcare measure in 2004, has characterized the bill as “half a proposal.”

The bill’s passing in the House has resulted in a considerable amount of flak falling in Schwarzenegger’s direction from Republicans, none of whom supported the bill. They accused the Governor of reneging on his pledge not to raise taxes and for bypassing them in order to assure the bill’s passage.

“Our Governor, a governor who promised to not  raise taxes, is in fact working with the majority Democrats in this body to push through the largest business tax increase in the history of California,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine).

Past attempts at reforming the State’s healthcare system have all failed. The supporters of this latest healthcare reform bill hope that as premiums become more expensive and more people go without coverage, the electorate would be willing to risk rewriting the rules of the health insurance market.

Schwarzenegger’s and Nunez’s alliance–which has alienated key political support in order to find a middle ground—has drawn the attention of presidential hopefuls who hope that they could replicate California’s healthcare reform model. Leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have each proposed similar measures.

“It is precedent-setting, because California, the most populous and diverse state in the nation, can make healthcare happen and show this country that it can be done,” said Andy Stern, the President of Service Employees International Union.



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Galing Pinoy: Pinay Appointed to Nevada Board of Nursing

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LAS VEGAS, NV — Filipino American Belen Gabato became the first Filipina nurse to ever be appointed by the Governors Office in the State of Nevada as a member of the Nevada Board of Nursing. She is also the first Asian to get the post.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons will induct Gabato officially to the Nevada Board of Nursing at a special ceremony in Las Vegas on December 14.

Originally from Cebu City, Gabato said that this is the culmination of a career that started more than 40 years ago. And to think, when she moved to Las Vegas with her husband, Dr. Manuel Gabato in the 1990’s, she wanted to pursue a different profession.

“I wanted to be a showgirl,” Gabato joked in a recent interview with the Asian Journal.

Seriously, Gabato said “I’m thankful for Governor Gibbons for recognizing that and believing in diversity. It’s important to have different points of views and reflect the constituents of the community where we have a diverse population.”

“I think [her appointment is] long overdue,” added her husband Dr. Manuel Gabato. “There are so many Filipino nurses in Nevada, they should be represented by one of their own.”

Nurse Activist

Gabato has been a nurse advocate and leader since her days in Cebu City, Philippines. She studied at the Southern Island Hospital school of Nursing and received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from the Southwestern University in Cebu City. In college, her peers voted her president of the student council. When she took her Philippine board of nursing exam, Gabato placed fifth in the whole country.

“She’s always been a very smart woman,” said Dr. Manuel.

In 1964, she went to the US under an exchange visitors program. She relocated and became a nurse at a hospital in Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, she continued her studies teaching at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital and pursued a graduate degree.

Once her husband, finished his training as a doctor at Cook County Hospital, they moved to Indiana and started a private practice.

“It was small townish,” she said about living in Indiana. “You knew everybody, you saw everybody, and you knew all the teachers. I liked it but my husband got tired of the winter weather.”

In 1990 the couple moved to Las Vegas and began another medical practice. Gabato ran the office learning about insurance, Medicare, HMO and Medicaid.

Nursing, however, continued to be part of her life.

In the early 90’s, she along with four of her friends founded the Philippine Nurses Association of Las Vegas.

She admitted that starting an organization from the ground up was difficult.

“Nobody joined,” she said. “Naturally, everyone wanted to know why they should join. I told them that, ‘if they joined that I’d give them a pencil,’ I’d be lying. But I told them [nurses] that there might be issues in the future that they might be concerned with and need to pay attention to.”

Gabato said nothing happened for two years.

Then in 1993, a nursing bill floated around the Nevada State Congress. The bill would have allowed Canadian nurses the ability to be a nurse in Nevada without having to take the state’s licensing exam to practice nursing.

“We thought this was unfair,” she recalls.

Gabato said that members of the Philippine Nurses Association started a petition, rallying other nurses who opposed the bill. They began to work with the State’s Board of Nursing and other Nevada Nurses organizations. Gabato also wrote a position paper and testified in front of the Nevada State Congress against the bill.

“They [the state legislators] killed it,” she said proudly. “We didn’t say that they [Canadian nurses] couldn’t come [practice nursing in Nevada] that just they have to take the test like everyone else.”

This was the first of many victories. Not only was it significant because the Philippine Nurses Association helped defeat the bill but also State politicians recognized that the organization had political clout.

Gabato said, “That got the ball rolling. Now through the years, we’ve partnered with the Board of Nursing, appeared before them, supported or not supported them depending on the issues.”

She said that the Philippine Nurses Association of Las Vegas boasts more than 400 members. The organization is also aligned with the larger nationwide Philippine Nurses Association of America to continue to promote professional excellence and contribute to significant outcomes to healthcare and society.

Tough task

As one of the seven members of the Nevada State Board of Nursing, Gabato has a large task ahead. She will be part of the governing board that is responsible for protecting the public’s health, safety and welfare through effective nursing regulation.

“The Board’s mission is to insure the public gets safe, effective quality care. It’s not to protect nurses or doctors,” she said. “It’s not a board for nurses. We are here for the public. We have to uphold regulations, and disciplinary actions. We have to make sure that nurses know what they are doing and the public will get the care they deserve.”

“There is an increased responsibility because it deals with people’s careers, reputation, the public rights for safe care,” she added. “ I have to make sure that I look at all the angles of a situation and be fair, objective and responsive.”

One key issue that she continues to fight for is the State’s nurse to patient ratio.

Nevada ranks last in the nation in the number of nurses per 100,000 people. A 2005 Medical Education Council of Nevada (MECON) University of Nevada School of Medicine study revealed that there are 548 licensed Registered Nurses (RN’s) per 100,000 people in the state of Nevada. The number is way below the national average of 782 per 100,000 people.

“We [Nevada] still don’t have a nurse to patient ratio,” she said. “We have tried to work on a nurse/ patient ratio bill to pattern ourselves from California for a couple years now [but] our bill has never made it out of committee.”

“That’s a bill that we will continue to support and again bring to the State legislators,” she added.

Gabato said that she’s taking her role as a member of the board very seriously. She knows that her leadership is being counted on not only by the community for better healthcare but other Filipino nurses who look up to her.

“There are so many of us now,” she said. “I hope this [my appointment] will continue to open the doors for other Filipino nurses to be considered for this Board or other positions of political power. This could break the glass ceiling for us.”


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California’s Budget Shortfall Estimated at $14 Billion

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

SACRAMENTO — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly told a gathering of social services advocates in Sacramento on Tuesday that California’s expected budget shortfall has widened to $14 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times. The budget crisis is feared to be the worst since Schwazenegger took over in 2003.

The State Legislature’s chief budget analyst has computed that the State is on track to come up with a $10 million shortfall by the end of the state’s next fiscal year. The shortfall would equal more than 12 percent of California’s budget if spending continues to rise as projected.

Last month, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill suggested to legislators to considering doing without some State programs created in recent years like abolishing tax breaks, raising taxes and cutting benefits for beneficiaries of government programs. The centerpiece of Schwarzenegger’s campaign is not to raise taxes.

Gov. Schwarzenegger reportedly told the group that he wanted to try reducing spending evenly across the State’s programs, including running prisons, providing healthcare for the poor and the disabled, and paying for public schools. He had also asked State agencies in November to trim at least 10 percent of their spending immediately.

“It was more of a ‘we want a fair and across-the-board approach’ rather than picking on one particular sector,” said one social service advocate.

However, H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the State Department of Finance, declined to confirm these accounts, saying, “we’re not going to discuss the specific number until the governor has completed briefing the legislative leadership on what we project the scope of the problem will be.”

The spokesman added that he attributed the State’s woes were accelerated because of the housing slump that has lowered property tax revenues, delays in expanding Indian gambling that lawmakers had approved in hopes of earning more revenues.

This State’s budget troubles comes at the heels of the governor’s and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s (D-Los Angeles) efforts to reach an agreement on how to overhaul the California healthcare system. These efforts have occupied the leader’s focus for almost the entire 2007, having been stymied on how to pay for it and how much it would cost.

The healthcare plan’s details are still unresolved, but it apparently includes a need for businesses to spend 6 per cent of their payroll cost on healthcare. It also includes plan to increase tobacco tax, which would help buying medical insurance for lower-income and some middle-class families, and requires everyone else to purchase private insurance plans. The cost of that healthcare plan has been estimated at $14 billion annually, and proponents that the cost would not affect the state’s budget shortfall in any way.

Observers, however, believe that even if Legislative leaders reach an agreement on healthcare this week, the plan would still face some daunting hurdles, including winning approval in the Legislature and being approved by voters next November.

Blue Cross of California, the State’s largest healthcare insurer, and tobacco companies are reportedly poised to fight the bill if it passes the Legislature.


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