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Health Insurance Bill Clears Hurdle

With only days left until the Legislature adjourns, a compromise measure to make California employers offer health insurance to their workers has cleared a critical first step.

A 6-member panel has approved the bill and sent it toward full Assembly and Senate floor votes.

The bill makes companies with more than 200 employees offer health benefits by 2006. Smaller companies with more than 20 employees would have until 2007.

The bill addresses a chronic problem among California´s 6.3 million residents, or about 21 percent of the population, who don´t have health insurance. Supporters of the legislation say only Texas and New Mexico have higher percentages.

Business groups oppose the measure, saying it will cost too much and stifle job growth.