The California Assembly voted Monday to approve a statewide universal health care plan, though its fate in the Senate remains uncertain. The health care reform bill was one of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top priorities this year. The bill passed on a party-line vote of 46 to 31, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against. Passage of the bill follows about a year of negotiations, but its fate remains in the hand of Senate president pro tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, who has indicated that he is reluctant to propose such a massive health care reform while the state is facing a potential $14 billion deficit next year that threatens many existing health programs. The bill would require all Californians to purchase health insurance, while providing subsidies for people with lower incomes, and is to guarantee that all will be able to purchase insurance no matter their age and medical histories. The funding plan includes more than $2 billion from a new tax or fee on hospitals and about $1.5 billion from increased tobacco taxes. An administration proposal to lease the state lottery and use the revenues to finance the insurance program was shelved. The new taxes and fees would all require voter approval on the November 2008 ballot before the insurance package could take effect. Perata, who said he favors the concept, said the Senate will not take up the health care plan until 2008, and said he wants a financial analysis from California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office before he decides what course to pursue.

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