One Arnold's rhetorical tricks is playing around with the word "taxes". He signed the Grover Norquist pledge, saying he would never raise them. However, he has raised the amount flowing out of Californian's pockets into the state government in the form of fees. The most well known are his increases to state tuition. Now he is trying a new form of creative naming, this time around health care costs.
The New America Foundation released a report that exposes something Arnold is referring to as a "hidden tax". It is the estimated extra $1,186 that an average Californian family of four with private insurance pays in premiums to "subsidize the care of the uninsured." Hospitals cannot turn down someone who shows up at their ER and the costs are passed on to the consumers. Arnold is setting the scene for a plan which would take away those costs, but would cause new "fees" elsewhere, shifting the burden. Jordan Rau does a great job parsing the move:
Schwarzenegger's analysis comes from a report released by the New America Foundation. But the politics of his comments are tantalizing. The governor already has declared that though he wants to help every Californian to be able to obtain health care insurance, but will not raise taxes to do so. However, IF Californians are already paying a tax by any other name through their premiums, then a number of possible solutions -- such as some versions of an employer mandate to provide coverage or a requirement that individuals purchase insurance -- could be argued as not raising taxes but as making people pay costs that others are now shouldering.
It's an argument not likely to win over the anti-tax crowd, but could give Schwarzenegger some important rhetorical wiggle room for whatever plan he presents next year. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who is expected to release his own plan shortly, immediately lauded the perspective, saying: "We certainly agree that easing the burden of the "hidden tax" -- especially what responsible businesses pay when they offer insurance but their competitors do not -- is a priority."
Of course the New America Foundation issued the report to help make the case for universal health care:
Peter Harbage, one of the authors of the New America study, said the point of the study was to make sure people understand the links between the premiums paid by the insured and the costs of care to the uninsured.
"It's easy for people who have health insurance to believe that the uninsured is a problem separate from them," he said. "What we are trying to show is that everyone in California is already paying for the uninsured. It would be better to have a universal health care system where everyone gets coverage that is more affordable."
A universal health care system is not where Arnold is heading. He is simply using the study to help build his case for more "fees". Interestingly, the most recent major policy proposal to come out of DC on health care reform is not a universal system. Reform and labor groups are hoping to have some sort of reform pass and move towards an universal system later. California does not need to have the same sort of intermediary step. We are progressive enough to push for the real thing, though Arnold is admittedly the biggest stumbling block.