Single-Payer Health Care Clears California Senate

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – The dream of single-payer health care in California survived its most recent challenge, passing the state Senate late Thursday on a party-line vote.

The estimated $400 billion annual cost of the bill – more than double the entire state budget – was no deterrent for Democrats looking to advance a plan before President Donald Trump’s promise to gut his predecessor’s landmark health care law comes to fruition.

“Despite the incredible progress California has made, millions still do not have access to health insurance and millions more can’t afford the high deductibles and copays and often forgo care,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. “For me, this issue is personal. This is the right fight, and the right thing to do for California’s families, children and seniors.”

He told his colleagues, “With President Trump’s promise to abandon the Affordable Care Act as we know it – for one that leaves millions without access to care – California is once again tasked to lead.”

The idea of a single-payer system is popular in California, as long as it doesn’t raise taxes. A recent poll found 65 percent of likely voters in support. Support dropped to 42 percent when new taxes were added.

Lara wrote Senate Bill 562, the Healthy California Act, with sponsorship from the California Nurses Association, who have proposed a 2.3 percent tax increase on sales and business receipts. The tax would bring in an estimated $106 billion according to a UMass Amherst study. Meanwhile, the state’s Legislative Analyst Office estimates a 15 percent payroll tax will fund half the annual cost of single-payer health care.

The remainder would presumably come from federal health care aid in the way of Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Lara’s bill moves next to the state Assembly, where a Democrat supermajority makes passage highly likely.

It also puts pressure to identify funding. If approved by the Assembly, Gov. Jerry Brown – who once said “You cannot solve a problem by creating a bigger problem” – must sign it. If he does, the measure lastly goes before voters for approval of a financing plan.

State Republicans say the math doesn’t add up.

“The Senate has voted to give Californians a false promise that is unaffordable and unworkable,” state Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said. “It is pure fantasy to think that the state can provide free government-run health care to citizens and undocumented immigrants alike while also cutting overall health care costs. The $400 billion price tag of SB 562 is more than double Gov. Brown’s proposed 2017-18 budget of $183 billion. The math of single-payer just doesn’t add up.”

State Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said the state’s track record on major projects should make voters cautious.

“Remember that over the last two decades, voters have supported over $20 billion in water-related bond money, but the state has built no new dams. The government has collected billions in gas taxes, yet we still have some of the nation’s worst roads. State planners are developing a $100 billion high-speed rail system, but we still have no train. Californians simply cannot trust the state to deliver results when it takes more of their hard-earned money,” Morrell said.

“Today’s vote on this misguided bill is an embarrassment to this institution,” he added.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, took issue with the lax provisions contained in the bill.

“This bill forces citizens to pay for the health care – without limit – of anyone from anywhere in the world who comes to our state, whether they are here legally or not,” Gaines said. “California, already the king of the tax-dollar giveaway, would become the hot new destination for people everywhere  seeking care, driving the costs even higher.”

Even some Democrats hesitated. State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, withheld his vote because he believes the bill is underdeveloped.

“This is the Senate kicking the can down the road to the Assembly and asking the Assembly to fill in all of the blanks,” Hueso said. “That’s not going to happen this year.”

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