Greg Campbell is chief of staff for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

Viewpoints: Medical insurance reforms can't wait

Published: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 7:55 am

Two weeks ago I was sitting in my office at the Capitol strategizing on how to navigate legislation through the Assembly and Senate, then onto the governor's desk and into the law books. Today I am recovering in a bed at UC Davis Medical Center after the removal of a brain tumor.

People in government and politics don't always get to see firsthand the real need for legislation and the real problems that people need us to help solve. Sure, we hear testimony, and we read studies and analyses. But with the size of the state and the sheer number of different challenges we often have to function at a 30,000-foot level.

For the past two weeks as I've recovered, I have been surrounded by people who are seriously ill but don't have health coverage. They are scared. They are sicker than they needed to be when they first came for treatment, and their care costs more because their conditions are more advanced and complicated than if they had received earlier diagnosis and treatment. It shouldn't be this way. And it doesn't have to be.

Some of the legislation I was strategizing on back in the Capitol can actually make a big difference. Thanks to the federal Affordable Care Act, our state has the opportunity to expand health care coverage to a million more Californians. Bills by Speaker John A. Pérez in the Assembly and Dr. Ed Hernandez in the Senate are moving forward to achieve that. The governor and his team have been looking at the issue, and he called for a special legislative session on health care reform.

I have realized in the past few days how extremely lucky I am in so many ways. My wife and kids and friends and family, of course. And good news from doctors. The governor of California took time from his crazy schedule to call and wish me well. Kind of a big deal for the kid of schoolteachers. The speaker of the Assembly was there for me and my family the entire time. But above everything else, I was grateful for the fact my family and I have health care coverage.

I can't imagine having to deal with the stresses of serious illness while also feeling the worry that medical bills would wipe out your family financially. And it's painful to see so many people who should be fully devoted to getting well instead filled with concern over how to pay for their treatment.

Sometimes in the Capitol there's a my-way-or-the-highway attitude when it comes to bills – and I guess I've been guilty of that myself on occasion. But this issue is far too important for that. Anyone who sees the faces I've seen at the Med Center knows that. We have to set aside whatever minor differences we have and deliver on this. Does it have to be one specific approach with one specific number attached? Two weeks ago I probably would have insisted "yes." After the experience I've had with people who don't have health coverage, now I'm saying we just need to come together and get something done.

Some people want to score political points by refusing to have anything to do with Obamacare. In the scheme of things, that has to be one of the least important considerations imaginable. Others express reasonable concerns about potential costs, because the recession isn't all that far back in our rearview mirror yet. But the federal government will fund health coverage expansion for the first three years and will continue to cover eventually 90 percent of the cost. And whatever the remaining cost is will be mitigated by the savings that come from taxpayers not having to pay for more expensive late treatment and unnecessary emergency room visits.

With the opportunity being presented to us, there is no reason more Californians can't get the same quality care I got – with the same relief from the pressures of financial worry. I love the business I'm in, but this can't just be business as usual. The tools and the money are there if the will is. We can do this. It's not brain surgery.

Greg Campbell is chief of staff for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

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