California governor pledges continued fight for health care reforms

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged before an audience of Catholic health care leaders June 23 to continue working to achieve health care reform in a state where 6.7 million people are uninsured.

"Even if it takes praying 20 rosaries a day, every day I will be on my knees praying the 20 rosaries and we are going to get the job done," said the Republican governor, who is a Catholic.

Schwarzenegger also went to the 2008 Catholic Health Assembly in San Diego to congratulate Lloyd H. Dean, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, on his new post as chairman of the board of trustees of the Catholic Health Association.

Calling Dean "an action hero," the governor said he took over a system that "was posting deep financial losses" and balanced the books within two years, "while maintaining the compassionate and high-quality service that defines your hospitals."

Schwarzenegger said Dean "is like me" on solving the problem of the uninsured. "We don't want to wait for Washington when it comes to health care reform," he said.

"On the national level they have been talking about health care reform and universal health care for 100 years, since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. He was the first one to mention that," the governor said. "But we haven't seen much action out of Washington since, so, of course, states have to take it on themselves and push the ball forward."

The only way to achieve health care reform "is through shared responsibility among employers, providers, insurers, individuals and government -- and that is state and federal government," Schwarzenegger said.

His plan, which ultimately died in the Senate Health Committee, had the backing of "an unprecedented and historic coalition of hospitals, doctors, insurers, patient groups, business groups and labor groups and the list goes on and on," he said. "Organizations that normally stand toe-to-toe stood side by side, united behind our plan."

Calling the current situation "a moral crisis," "a health crisis" and "an economic crisis," Schwarzenegger said that "this is why we will not rest until the job is finished."

"With two and a half years left in my office, I'm as committed as ever to leaving California a health care system that is affordable, that is accessible and that works for everyone," he said.

In a speech accepting his new post as CHA board chairman, Dean said this is a moment "of opportunity for Catholic health care every bit as rich and urgent as any in our history" because of the coming health care reform debate.

"For too long, the health care reform debate has been ill-defined, in my opinion," he said. "For too long, the measure of health care reform has been its cost, its fiscal impact. But health care -- the laying on of hands, the act of caring for others, the gift of healing and comfort -- has at its heart the instinct for compassion."

"The proper measure of a health care system should not be the size of the 'doughnut hole' in the Medicare prescription program, should not be on casting blame for mistakes in billing, should not be on creating ever more complex pricing formulas and more complex payment methodologies," Dean added. "The proper measure is the ability to support and deliver compassionate care."

The day before in her final talk as CHA board chairwoman, Sandra Bennett Bruce, president and CEO of St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, said she had seen "significant progress in the positive relationships between CHA and the Vatican" in the past year.

As one example of that, she said the Vatican asked Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO, to oversee all of Pope Benedict XVI's health needs while he was in the U.S. in April, including:

-- Assembling a medical team to travel with him.

-- Alerting nearby hospitals for any papal medical emergency.

-- Being present at every scheduled event.

Bruce said another hallmark of the past year has been the expanding impact of the Catholic health ministry beyond U.S. borders in hundreds of medical missions to the poor around the world.

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