Did insurer money kill bill?

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Capitol Alert (Sacramento Bee)

One piece of the Capitol’s convoluted health insurance debate this year has been a bill that would subject health insurers’ rates to state regulation, and it stalled, perhaps permanently, in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday when two Democratic senators refused to vote.

Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, needed six votes in the 11-member committee and five Democrats voted for it while all four Republicans voted against it. But two Democrats, San Francisco’s Leland Yee and Gloria Negrete McCloud of Chino, refused to vote, thereby blocking passage. The same committee did, however, approve a Democratic leadership bill expanding insurance coverage, mostly at employers’ expense.

It was a big setback for consumer activists who contend that regulating insurers’ profits would drive down health care costs and make insurance more affordable, and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights contends that a compilation of campaign contributions from the firms “helps explain why the Senate Health Committee supported a proposal requiring employees to pay for private coverage but refused to pass a bill to regulate what insurers can charge for the policies.”

The organization identified Yee and Negrete McCloud as “two of the largest recipients of health insurance contributions” and released its list of campaign money from the five largest health insurers over the past six years.

The insurers provided nearly $1.5 million to the state Democratic and Republican parties and Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger, the organization said, and amounts ranging from $134,300 to zero to legislators with Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, who’s personally carrying the Democratic leadership bill. Health Committee chairwoman Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, was one of the zero recipients while the top Senate recipient was Republican Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, at $68,700, followed by Yee at $58,867 and with Negrete McCloud fourth at $52,970.

Cox is a member of the Health Committee and voted against Jones’ bill, as did the third largest recipient of insurer money on the list, Santa Maria Republican Abel Maldonado. Two other Republicans who voted against the bill, Sam Aanestad of Penn Valley and Mark Wyland of Del Mar were well down the list at $16,500 and $10,250 respectively.

One senator who voted for the bill, Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, ranked sixth on the Senate money list at $41,500. Other “aye” votes were cast by Democratic Sens. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento ($13,249), Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles ($11,300) and Elaine Alquist of San Jose ($7,250).

The complete compilation of insurance company recipients is available here.

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