SACRAMENTO - The state Assembly this afternoon approved a sweeping health care reform plan that would extend health insurance to more than two-thirds of the state's uninsured and create new protections for people anxious about keeping their coverage because of a pre-existing health condition.

The plan, which faces uncertain prospects in the Senate and then must be approved by voters before taking effect, would create a new requirement that individuals carry insurance or potentially be fined. Employers would have to offer coverage or pay a percentage of revenues into a state health pool.

The proposal would also impose taxes on hospitals and cigarettes, and draw billions of dollars from the federal government. Altogether it aims to cover more than 70 percent of the roughly 6.6 million Californians uninsured for all or part of the year.

"This is truly an historic effort," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, who spent months negotiating the proposal with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But as ambitious as the plan is, it may not make it farther than today's 45-31 party-line vote. Senate Democratic leader Don Perata is refusing to bring the measure to a vote until more is known about how it would affect the state's already-grim finances.

California faces a deficit of as much as $14 billion, and Perata says it would be a mistake to create a new health care program with existing health programs potentially on the chopping block.


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