Commentary: GOP would love this 'public option' for health care

As the politicians in Washington debate the wisdom of a "public option" in health insurance, California has a real-life example of how such a program might work. And oddly enough, Democrats here have voted to sell off a portion of our state-owned insurance company while Republicans are trying to preserve it.

That company is known as State Fund, and it sells workers' compensation insurance — the policies that every California employer must carry to pay for medical care and disability benefits for workers who are injured on the job.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed and the Democratic majority in the Legislature passed — over objections from the Republican minority — a measure to sell part of the plan as a way to bail out the state budget. But Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a Republican who is running for governor, called the sale "unconscionable and unconstitutional." He's suing in Sacramento Superior Court to stop it.

Some history: Before the early 1900s, the only remedy for workers injured on the job was a lawsuit. That didn't work, either for employers or workers.

As in other states, the California Legislature in 1913 created a no-fault workers' compensation system. It mandates that all employers carry insurance to cover workers who are injured or become ill at work. As part of that, California established a public option, the State Compensation Insurance Fund (known as "State Fund"). It's a nonprofit overseen by a board appointed by the governor and Legislature and operated by 8,000 state employees.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.