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Universal health care bill in the works for California

POSTED May 9, 2017 9:30 p.m.

While the rest of the country is either worried or ecstatic about the GOP’s proposed national health care plan, the California Legislature has taken matters into its own hands by introducing a measure that would provide statewide, government-run health care courtesy of a single-payer system.

 

The Healthy California Act, or Senate Bill 562, recently passed the first step toward becoming law when the Senate Health Committee approved the measure. The bill would establish a publicly run health care plan that would cover everyone living in California, including those without legal immigration status, and would drastically reduce the role of insurance companies in the state by paying for all medical expenses, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency services, dental, vision, mental health and nursing home care.

 

“Every family, every child, every senior deserves health care that costs less and covers more, and California has a chance to lead the rest of the nation toward universal health care,” said Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who co-authored the bill alongside Senator Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego).

 

The bill passed through the Senate Health Committee thanks to a 5-2 vote in its favor, and it will now move forward to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where key components of the bill must still be figured out. Though the measure states that the program will be funded by “broad-based revenue,” it does not specify where the money would come from.

 

During the meeting, Health Committee Vice Chair Senator Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) expressed concerns over the bill’s lack of a financing plan. According to Lara, a detailed financial study will be completed this month before the bill is heard in the Appropriations Committee.

 

The measure models similar single-payer health care systems that other countries, such as Canada, have found successful. In the United States, a similar effort in Vermont fell through in 2014 when the governor decided it would cost too much. Unlike Vermont, which has a population of 620,000, California’s larger population may be enough to make the system successful.

 

Instead of buying health insurance and paying for premiums, single-payer systems call for residents to pay higher taxes, which are then used to fund the insurance plan.

 

The Healthy California Act would cover 17.5 million Californians who have employer-based coverage, 11 million Medi-Cal enrollees, 4 million Medicare enrollees, 2.6 million individually insured residents and 3 million uninsured. Lara and Atkins hope to divert $261 billion of federal money currently sent to California to pay for Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act into a trust fund. According to a UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study, it would cost $58.3 billion to cover everyone else who has employer-provided insurance.

“This plan could be over $200 billion in federal funds,” said Nguyen. “It will exceed our state budget which is $124 billion. I believe everyone should have access but I want to make sure we are not out there selling a plan to everybody…and then say, ‘Oops.’”

It is unclear how local senators Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) and Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) feel about the bill. Berryhill did not have a statement readily available, and a representative for Cannella stated that the senator would comment on the measure once the fiscal implications were made clear in the Appropriations Committee, or once the bill hits the Senate Floor. 
California Senate Republican Caucus member Senator Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) penned a column for the Riverside Press-Enterprise, where he explained why he believes SB 562 is a bad idea for California. 
"This legislation, while well intentioned, would force millions of Californians out of their current health care plans into a government-run system that will eventually result in government bureaucrats making health care decisions currently made by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals," said Stone. "If you think that lines at the DMV are long, just wait until you need an MRI at your doctor’s office or hospital."

The Health Committee’s vote came the day before the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

“Colleagues, let’s do something big for our state and our constituents,” said Atkins to the committee. “Let’s solve one of the most problematic issues of our time.” 

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