Election Creates New Legislative World for 2013

By: Robert J. Hanlon Jr., DMD, Chair of the CDA Government Affairs Council

Like many people, you may be relieved that the endless election season is over, and that TV commercial breaks are no longer filled with campaign rhetoric. Nevertheless, elections have consequences, and so I would like to provide a sense of how the results of the 2012 national and state campaigns will impact the legislative environment for CDA in 2013.

At the national level, the reelection of President Barack Obama, coupled with control of Congress remaining split between the two parties, leaves no remaining doubt that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be implemented. California was one of only a few states that already was moving full steam ahead toward implementation, having established its own Health Benefit Exchange (now renamed Covered California) to provide a negotiated pool of health, dental and vision insurance products for purchase by individuals and businesses required to offer insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Nevertheless, a great deal of work remains on the details of how dental benefits will be offered, and CDA is actively engaged in making sure that both dentists’ and patients’ interests are protected as much as possible in this new system.

At the state level, perhaps the most unexpected development in California on Nov. 6 was the election of a two-thirds democratic majority in both the Assembly and Senate, something that had not occurred since the 1930s. The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote for a variety of matters, including tax increases, “urgency” bills that take effect immediately instead of at the beginning of the next calendar year, placing constitutional amendments on the ballot and the override of a governor’s veto. Officially, the election results give Democrats in the legislature the ability to take any of these actions without obtaining a single Republican vote.

While on the surface this is a significant change, time will tell how it actually impacts policymaking in Sacramento. Many of the newly elected legislators (Democrat and Republican) are in competitive, moderate districts and thus will have to be sensitive to that political reality when they cast votes. I was a member of the CalDPAC Executive Committee this past year, and we consistently looked for candidates who we felt would take a balanced, independent approach to health care and business issues regardless of party. Fortunately, many Californians felt as we did and most of those candidates were elected. We hope that this will result in a more effective, less partisan, problem-solving legislature next year and in years to come.

Another significant outcome of this election was the passage of Proposition 30, which will raise an estimated $6 billion next year by temporarily raising sales taxes across the board and personal income taxes for higher-income individuals. Passage of Proposition 30 will help relieve some of the deficit-reduction pressure on the governor and legislature when they begin working on next year’s budget.

In his post-election remarks to the media, Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) stated that one of his top priorities will be restoration of Medi-Cal adult dental benefits, which were eliminated in 2009 due to the deficit. We are pleased that Sen. Steinberg’s focus this past year on the problems with the Sacramento Geographic Managed Care (GMC) dental program, along with his visit to the CDA Cares clinic in Sacramento, have helped bring him to that conclusion.

It remains to be seen how much new program spending will be feasible next year. I say that because the revenue estimates included in the 2012-13 state budget assumed the passage of Proposition 30, California is still facing an estimated $1.9 billion deficit next year and the governor is maintaining his pledge not to raise taxes without a vote of the people. In other words, there still really isn’t much new money to spend. Nevertheless, we will be looking for opportunities that may arise in 2013.

In this era of legislative term limits, elections bring opportunities as well as challenges. In 2013, an unprecedented 38 of the 80 members of the Assembly will be new, freshmen legislators. While this huge turnover naturally creates uncertainty, it also presents a new opportunity for CDA and its members to educate legislators on the key issues facing the dental profession. We will do our best to keep you informed through our websites and publications, but I would also like to encourage you to become involved proactively at the component level. We all need to work together to make sure dentistry’s voice is heard, and I hope you will be actively engaged in the process.