Commentary: Schwarzenegger could make California a health care leader

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns Sept. 15 from a six-day trade mission in Asia, he'll have 700 or so bills to sign or veto. He'll also likely have to contend with a still-not-done budget.

That's why, before he leaves today, he should sign two bills laying the groundwork for California's health insurance exchange – the major piece of the national health reform legislation signed by President Barack Obama on March 23.

States need to be ready for business on Jan. 1, 2014.

While Massachusetts and Utah established state-based health exchanges before passage of the federal health care reform law, California's Senate Bill 900 and Assembly Bill 1602 clearly mark the most important state legislation since the federal health care reform law passed.

Schwarzenegger should seal California's leadership role by signing the bills sooner rather than later.

Three years to set up an exchange may seem like a lot of time, but it goes by quickly when you're trying to set up databases and work with health insurers. In Massachusetts, a smaller state, it took a year to set up an insurance exchange to provide individuals and small businesses access to easily comparable insurance plans. And it took time to design a process for approving health plans, which must meet certain coverage and cost standards.

But it's well worth it. The Massachusetts exchange, which began in 2007, has helped keep premium rate increases below the national average, reduced the number of people getting free care at hospital emergency rooms and has given the state the lowest share of uninsured residents (2.6 percent).

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.