Capitol Alert: Hospitals pour money into California ballot campaign

04/15/2014 4:18 PM

04/15/2014 5:52 PM

In less than three months, healthcare networks and individual hospitals have pumped more than $51 million into a proposed ballot measure meant to lock up revenue from a Legislature-approved fee on acute-care hospitals.

The measure would limit lawmakers' ability to change or repeal the "Medi-Cal Hospital Reimbursement Act," which lawmakers passed last year as SB 239. With hospitals' backing, the law continued a hospital quality-assurance fee first passed in 2009 through 2016.

The money helps pay for children's health coverage, Medi-Cal, and other programs. Even though hospitals pay the fee, matching federal money means a net benefit of $10 billion for the hospital industry from 2014 through 2016, according to a legislative analysis.

The proposed ballot measure would strip the Jan. 1, 2017 sunset date from the law. It also would require voter approval for any changes to it. And any attempt to repeal the law entirely would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

In addition, the proposed initiative declares that revenue from the law and interest doesn't count against the state's school-funding guarantee.

Proponents have until May 1 to submit 807,615 valid voter signatures to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the Nov. 4 ballot.

Kevin Riggs, a spokesman for the campaign, said proponents have gathered about 1.3 million signatures and will begin turning them in next week.

Riggs said the proposal will eliminate uncertainty about the fee's future. Hospitals have raised so much money already because they know they will have to educate voters, he said.

"There are a lot of people in California who are not familiar with the issue. Hospitals want to make sure their message doesn't get lost in the shuffle," Riggs said.

The chart below shows the top donors to the initiative effort, through Monday.

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