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PROP. 72: Firms would either buy insurance on their own or pay into a state-run pool.

Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

Most California voters still favor a billion-dollar health insurance plan on the November ballot, but support is slipping for the measure as business groups strengthen their opposition, according to a new Field Poll released Wednesday.

Companies with 50 employees or more would be required to buy health insurance and force their workers to pay for a fifth of the cost if voters approve Prop. 72. The proposition is a referendum on Senate Bill 2, which passed in the waning days of the Davis administration.

A statewide survey produced for The Press-Enterprise and other California media found that 48 percent of voters would vote for Prop. 72 and 31 percent would vote no if the election were held
today. The poll, conducted from July 31 to Aug. 8, found that 21 percent were still undecided.

While the poll of 534 randomly selected voters shows the proposition winning, support for the measure is down from Jan. 23, when a Field Poll found 65 percent of voters were in favor of the

“We’re encouraged. It shows that less than half the people support Prop. 72,” said Jot Condie, president and chief executive officer of the California Restaurant Association,
which is spearheading the opposition to the health-care plan.

Business groups have raised about $ 10 million to defeat Prop. 72. They argue the measure’s requirements would join high worker’s compensation and energy prices as a burden on California business, making companies in the state less competitive, according to Sara Lee, spokeswoman for the California Chamber of Commerce.

Under current law, the state does not require companies or individuals to carry health-care coverage other than workers’ compensation. If passed, the plan would be phased in beginning
2006 for companies of 200 workers or more. Companies with 50 employees or more would begin participating in 2007.

If the plan is enacted, companies would have the choice of buying health insurance on their own or paying into a state-run pool, which would leverage its assembled companies to buy coverage at a competitive rate, backers said.

Backers say the measure will extend health-care coverage to more than 1 million California workers and their families.

“This is about ensuring that working people have access to health care,” said Jerry Flanagan, health care director for the Los Angeles-based consumer advocacy group The Foundation for
Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Currently 6 million Californians, about 19 percent, lack health-care coverage and rely on government health systems and hospital emergency rooms for their medical care, according to the California Medical Association, a proponent of the measure.

Estimates of how much the plan’s cost vary widely. The Los Angeles Economic Development Agency economists estimate the plan will cost businesses $ 5.7 billion a year. Workers statewide will pay $ 1.5 billion a year for their portion, the agency projected.

A University of California study estimates the plan will cost employers $ 1.3 billion a year when tax deductions are figured in, based on a cost of $ 2,400 per employee and $ 1,100 for each
dependent $ 1,100 for each dependent.

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