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Daniel Zingale Headshot

Obamacare and Arnold Schwarzenegger

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In the last few days, the nation has watched the spectacle of a vicious debate in Washington that threatens to stop funding Obamacare or stop funding the entire federal government.

The Obamacare funding debate in Washington falls on deaf ears here in California. We aren't arguing over why the law was passed; we are too busy working together on how best to implement it.

Californians have a history of moving the ball forward on health care reform. Former Governor Gray Davis signed SB 2 in 2003, requiring California employers to either provide health insurance or to pay into a pool to purchase the coverage. Current Governor Jerry Brown has stepped up to ensure the State takes a lead role in implementing Obamacare.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger helped plant the seeds in California years ago when he began arguing for health care reform at the state level. I know because I served as a health care advisor on his staff at the time. And the success California is enjoying today can be traced to Schwarzenegger.

In 2007, Schwarzenegger forged an agreement with then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez on a health care law that ultimately didn't pass. But in so doing, he began framing the debate in a way that prefaced what President Obama would do later. Schwarzenegger talked about the importance of mandating that individuals buy insurance and the need to have health exchanges for people without insurance. Sometimes in politics a leader can lose a battle but still win the war. The Schwarzenegger-Nunez health proposal didn't win at the time, but it raised awareness about the need for change.

As a result, when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, the people of California had already moved on from the stale debate going on in Washington. A consensus already existed here in California that the mandate was necessary and the exchange was needed.

Within days of the ACA being signed into law, Schwarzenegger announced an aggressive plan to implement it here in California. And he pledged to ensure that the state receive the resources and flexibility needed to deliver on the promise of quality health care for all.

A few days later, Schwarzenegger made California the first state in the nation to implement health care reform by signing legislation to create the California Health Benefit Exchange, which will help California consumers and small businesses shop for affordable health insurance starting in 2014.

He negotiated federal approval of California's "Bridge to Reform" Medicaid waiver, expanding coverage, pre-enrolling and helping California prepare for implementation of the ACA with $10 billion over 5 years in federal resources to expand health coverage for low-income uninsured residents.

And then later that fall, Schwarzenegger achieved a milestone in implementing federal health care reform by opening California's Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) for enrollment. This was one of the first major provisions of national health care reform to take effect and it bridged the gap between now and 2014, when insurers will no longer be allowed to decline health care coverage or charge higher premiums to individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The result is California is ready for the ACA. While other states are just now getting started with enrollment, over 1 million Californians are already enrolled in insurance due to Obamacare. California is reaching low-income and uninsured people faster and more effectively than other states.

A leader is supposed to see things for what they can be, not just accept things as they are. By that measure, Schwarzenegger showed great leadership on health care. He is a large reason why health care reform is working in California.